Reports have been suggesting that North America is experiencing potato shortages and processors, and those in the West, are especially scrambling to get potatoes into their plants.
And indeed, a cold and very wet fall has negatively impacted crop yields among potato farmers. Almost 20 per cent of potatoes were left out in fields due to poor quality. The United States Department of Agriculture is projecting a 6.1 per cent decline in total crops from a year ago, making it one of the lowest crop yields since 2010.
In Manitoba, more than 18 per cent of potato crops remained unharvested, while in Alberta, 6.5 per cent of potato crops were damaged by an early frost. In the food industry, size matters when buying potatoes; buyers are always looking for larger, bigger potatoes, but this year the harvested potatoes were much smaller than usual. Basically, supplies are much lower than usual as we start the winter season in North America.
Hard to tell whether retail prices will be affected
But it’s difficult to tell whether retail prices will be affected at all. The truth is that potato prices have already gone up this past year. Potatoes at retail are 20.7 per cent more expensive than just 12 months ago. According to Statistics Canada, a 10-pound bag of potatoes in Canada retails for an average of $9.77, while a year ago it was $8.11. Frozen fried potatoes have gone up 17.1 per cent as well, retailing now at $3.02 for one kilo. These increases, the most important increases ever recorded, are difficult to explain. Potato production over the last five years in North America has been quite steady. In 2010, when the harvest was even worse than this year’s, retail prices barely moved at all, suggesting that the market was not willing to budge on pricing, despite lower inventories. But the market today is a little different as we crave the product much more.
If prices do go up, it won’t be because our farmers are raking it in, making more money. Farmers won’t likely get more for their crops as they typically lock themselves into unbending contracts before the growing season even starts. Farmers affected by weather will have crop insurance. Not all of them, but many of them do.
Canada is only the 18th largest potato producer in the world, but we do take our potatoes seriously. The country won’t run out of potatoes any time soon and they will remain quite affordable for most of us for a very long time. So, keep calm and eat your fries.