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 441 million cwt in 2016, up slightly from the previous year, and was valued at $3.74 billion. The average price for all potatoes in 2016 was $9.08 per cwt, was up $0.32 from 2015. (NASS 2017).
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 2017).
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 2016 a total of 1.02 million acres of potatoes were harvested in the United States. The average price of potatoes decreased by $0.12 to $8.76 per cwt. The total value of the potato crop was $3.74 billion (NASS 2017).
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:
- 170 million cwt were used in frozen potato products, including frozen fries, tater tots, spiral fries, home fries, wedges and frozen whole potatoes ( 2% increase from 2015).
- 114 million cwt were used for fresh potatoes, which includes baked, boiled or mashed.
- 60.3 million cwt were used in chips, including shoestrings ( 6%increase from 2015).
- 48.02 million cwt were dehydrated, including products for potato chips, mashed potatoes, potato pancake mix and some canned stews (down 1 percent from 2015).
- 26.3 million cwt went to seed (increase from 2015).
- 1.93 million cwt were canned, which would be used for small whole potatoes, corned beef hash, various stews, soups, chowders and commercial potato salad (increased by 13% from 2015).
- 1.08 million cwt went to livestock feed (increased from 2015) (NASS 2017).
In 2016, 92 plants processed potatoes into potato chips, a decline from the previous year. However, the total volume increased from 56.8 million cwt to 60.3 million cwt. The largest number of processing plants are located in the eastern United States, and they prepare the most potato chips (NASS 2017).
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 2016, the United States exported potatoes and potato products with a total value of $3.1 billion, up 1 percent from 2015. Of that volume, the United States exported 1.5 billion pounds of frozen fries that were valued at $568 million. The leading buyer of U.S. frozen potatoes was Japan, followed by Mexico, South Korea and Hong Kong. The United States also exported fresh potatoes valued at $1.52 billion, primarily to Canada and Japan (FAS 2016).
A total of $6.3 billion of fresh and processed potatoes were imported in 2016, relatively unchanged from 2015. Frozen fries were valued at $36 million while fresh potatoes were valued at $197 million. Canada remained the main source of both fresh and frozen potatoes (FAS 2016).
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 Annual Summary, National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), USDA.
Vegetables and Melons Yearbook Data, ERS, USDA, 2011.
Potato Statistical Yearbook, National Potato Council, 2013.