By Alena Bosse and Michael Boland, Kansas State University.
Revised April 2014 by Shannon Hoyle, AgMRC, Iowa State University.
Potatoes (Solanum tuberosum) are the fourth most important food crop in the world and the leading vegetable crop in the United States. Together, Idaho and Washington produce more than half of the annual supply, which totaled 463 million cwt in 2012, up 8 percent from the previous year, and was valued at $3.73 billion. The average price for all potatoes decreased in 2012, while yield per acre increased. (NASS 2013).
Nearly 60 percent of potato sales are to processors for French fries, chips, dehydrated potatoes and other potato products. The remainder goes to the fresh market, is fed to farm animals or re-used as seed tubers for growing the next season’s crop. (NASS 2013).
Potatoes were first cultivated around 200 B.C. by the Inca Indians in Peru. At that time, potatoes served a wide variety of uses, such as healing broken bones and measuring time. Nearly 4,000 varieties can be found in the Andes.
The Spanish brought potatoes to Europe in the 16th century. European consumers were reluctant to adopt the potato. However, due to the sheer practicality of the potato—adaptability, generally plentiful crops and relatively long shelf life, combined with the nutritional value—it was soon widely accepted and consumed.
Potatoes were introduced to North America in 1691, and they are thought to have been first planted in New Hampshire in 1719. The first French fries were served some 80 years later at the White House during the presidency of Thomas Jefferson.
Potatoes remain the top vegetable crop in the United States. They are grown commercially in 30 states, but Idaho grows more potatoes than any other state, followed by Washington. Wisconsin, Colorado and North Dakota are also leading producers of potatoes.
In 2012 a total of 1.13 million acres of potatoes were harvested in the United States, up 5 percent from 2011. The average yield increased to 409 cwt per acre, up 10 cwt from 2011. The average price of potatoes decreased by $.76 to $8.65 per cwt. The total value of the potato crop was $3.73 billion (NASS 2013).
China is now the world's top potato producer, followed by India, Russia, and Ukraine. The United States is the fifth largest producer of potatoes in the world (FAO).
A specific breakdown of U.S. potato use in 2012 is as follows:
- 166 million cwt were used in frozen potato products, including frozen fries, tater tots, spiral fries, homefries, wedges and frozen whole potatoes (up 4 percent from 2011).
- 283 million cwt were used for fresh potatoes, which includes baked, boiled or mashed (up 4 percent from 2011).
- 56.3 million cwt were used in chips, including shoestrings (down 4 percent from 2011).
- 50.6 million cwt were dehydrated, including products for potato chips, mashed potatoes, potato pancake mix and some canned stews (up 11 percent from 2001).
- 23.7 million cwt went to seed (up 8 percent from 2011).
- 2.46 million cwt were canned, which would be used for small whole potatoes, corned beef hash, various stews, soups, chowders and commercial potato salad (up slightly from 2011).
- 4.08 million cwt went to livestock feed (increased significantly from 2011) (NASS 2012).
In 2010, 81 plants processed potatoes into potato chips, a decline from the previous year. However, the total volume increased from 42.5 million cwt to 54.7 million cwt. The largest number of processing plants are located in the eastern United States, and they prepare the most potato chips (NASS 2011).
The Economic Research Service 2012 forecast estimated that per person consumption of potatoes during 2010 would total 112.9 pounds, a slight decrease from 2009. Per person consumption can be broken down into 49.8 pounds of frozen potatoes, 35.5 pounds of fresh potatoes, 16.8 pounds of potato chips, 14 pounds of dehydrated potatoes and less than 1 pound of canned potatoes.
In 2010, the United States exported 1.6 billion pounds of potatoes and potato products with a total value of $3.8 billion, up 8 percent from the previous year. Of that volume, the United States exported 1.5 billion pounds of frozen fries that were valued at $775.7 million. The leading buyer of U.S. frozen potatoes was Japan, followed by Canada, China and Mexico. The United States also exported 808.4 million pounds of fresh potatoes, valued at $165.9 million, primarily to Canada and Mexico (FAS 2010).
A total of 2.8 billion pounds of potatoes and potato products valued at $2.7 billion were imported in 2010, relatively unchanged from 2009. Frozen fries accounted for 1.4 billion pounds, the bulk of potato imports, and were valued at $631.9 million. Fresh potatoes accounted for 762.9 million pounds of potato imports valued at $132.1 million. Canada remained the main source of both fresh and frozen potatoes (FAS 2010).
In March 2009, Mexican officials imposed an average 20-percent tariff on various U.S. products exported to Mexico, including frozen potatoes. On August 18, 2010, the Mexican government released a revised set of targeted products and the tariff on U.S. frozen-potato products dropped to 5 percent. The reduction should help U.S. fryers regain market share lost to Canada, as Mexican importers compare higher transportation costs for Canadian potato products with the cost of the tariff on U.S. potato products (ERS).
U.S. per Capita Food Availability, Economic Research Service (ERS), USDA.
Global Agricultural Trade System (GATS), Foreign Ag Service (FAS), USDA, 2010.
Potatoes, Vegetable and Melons Outlook, ERS, USDA, 2011.
Potatoes Annual Summary, National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), USDA.
Vegetables and Melons Yearbook Data, ERS, USDA, 2011.
Potato Statistical Yearbook, National Potato Council, 2013.
Links checked April 2014.