Revised October 2018
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 442 million cwt in 2017, up slightly from the previous year, and was valued at $3.77 billion. The average price for all potatoes in 2017 was $9.10 per cwt, was up $0.02 from 2016. (NASS 2018).
About 63 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 2018).
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. North Dakota, Wisconsin, and Colorado are also leading producers of potatoes.
In 2017 a total of 1.05 million acres of potatoes were harvested in the United States. The average price of potatoes increased by $0.02 to $9.10 per cwt. The total value of the potato crop was $3.71 billion (NASS 2018).
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 (NPC).
A specific breakdown of U.S. potato use in 2017 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 ( down slightly from 2016).
- 114 million cwt were used for fresh potatoes, which includes baked, boiled or mashed.
- 58.8 million cwt were used in chips, including shoestrings ( 3% decrease from 2016).
- 45.8 million cwt were dehydrated, including products for potato chips, mashed potatoes, potato pancake mix and some canned stews (down 5 percent from 2016).
- 24.7 million cwt went to seed (decrease from 2016).
- 1.86 million cwt were canned, which would be used for small whole potatoes, corned beef hash, various stews, soups, chowders and commercial potato salad (decreased by 4% from 2016).
- 1.82 million cwt went to livestock feed (increased 68% from 2016) (NASS 2018).
In 2016, 89 plants processed potatoes into potato chips, a decline from the previous year. The total volume also decreased from 60.3 million cwt to 58.8 million cwt. The largest number of processing plants are located in the eastern United States, and they prepare the most potato chips (NASS 2018).
The Economic Research Service 2017 forecast estimated that per person consumption of potatoes during 2015 would total 115.4 pounds, a slight increase from 2014. Per person consumption can be broken down into 49.7 pounds of frozen potatoes, 34.1 pounds of fresh potatoes, 19.8 pounds of potato chips, 11.5 pounds of dehydrated potatoes and less than .5 pounds of canned potatoes.
In 2017, the United States exported potatoes and potato products with a total value of $3.0 billion, down 1 percent from 2016. Of that volume, the United States exported 2.03 billion pounds of frozen fries. The leading buyer of U.S. potatoes was Japan, followed by Canada, Mexico, and South Korea. The United States also exported potatoes valued at a total of $1.1 billion to these four countries alone (NPC 2018).
A total of 3.6 billion pounds of fresh and processed potatoes were imported in 2017, relatively unchanged from 2016. Frozen fries weighed in at 111.9 million pounds while fresh potatoes weighed in at .94 million. Canada remained the main source of both fresh and frozen potatoes (NPC 2018).
U.S. per Capita Food Availability, Economic Research Service (ERS), USDA, 2018.
Global Agricultural Trade System (GATS), Foreign Ag Service (FAS), USDA, 2010.
Potatoes Annual Summary, National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), USDA.
Potato Statistical Yearbook, National Potato Council, 2018.