Apr 7, 2020Fresh up, processing down in Red River Valley during COVID-19 crisis
For the first time all year, fresh potato shipments from the Red River Valley are meeting or exceeding last year’s numbers. Shipments had been running at about two-thirds of last year’s pace until the pandemic broke and consumers abandoned restaurants for eating at home.
Because of large crop losses last fall, prices for red and yellow potatoes from the valley have been higher all year which has slowed shipments to extend the shipping season accordingly. But in mid-March fresh shipments from the Red River Valley exceeded last year for the first time all season. This past week (March 29-April 3) shipments were up nearly 20% compared to last year, all this as supplies dwindle in the Red River Valley.
Meanwhile, there has been an opposite effect on the frozen potato market which is highly dependent on foodservice business, which includes restaurants. With restaurant business mostly disappearing with the exception of drive-thru business, stockpiles of frozen fries is backing up causing huge cuts in 2020 contracted acres and much uncertainty going forward. This could also have a trickledown effect on the fresh market this fall if russet supplies in the Northwest are diverted to fresh.
In the U.S., processors are cutting, eliminating or delaying contracts but its not just happening here, this is a worldwide problem. In Western Europe, several potato processing units are shutting down totally or partially. Throughout the European northwest, the industry is calling for a reduction in planting areas as it now expects a huge surplus of fries in storage. One estimate is that the Dutch potato sector has 1 million metric tons of surplus processing potatoes at the current time. In France, an estimated 500,000 tons of potatoes cannot be processed.
— From Ted Kreis, marketing and communications director, North Plains Potato Growers Association