In 2020, Washington potato growers faced a staggering surplus of potatoes. In 2021, they’re banking on a revival of the food service صنعت, including in-person dining, improved shipping conditions and a just-opened Mexican market to help reverse the chaos left by the trade wars and Covid-19 pandemic.
The Washington Potato Commission predicted growers and potato sheds would be forced to throw away a billion pounds that would not be used – one-tenth of Washington’s annual potato crop.
“We were giving away potatoes left and right,” recalled Chris Voigt, executive director, quoted by tricitiesbusinessnews.com.
In 2020, frozen fry exports were worth USD784m, down about 11%, thanks to falling demand from restaurants, cafeterias and other “food service” customers, according to Department of Agriculture figures finalized in May 2021.
The pandemic appears to be receding as an economic force. Washington state is expected to fully reopened in June 2021, with restaurants and retailers able to operate at full capacity after a year of shutdowns and restrictions. But the outlook is not all cheery for 2021. In May 2021, potato prices were low, below the cost of production.
“But at least we are not giving them away for free,” said Voigt, who said he was “a notch above” being cautiously optimistic about the coming year.
While markets normalize and consumer spending shifts back to spending on restaurants and services, there’s a lucrative spot on the potato horizon: Mexico. On April 28, 2021, the Mexican Supreme Court issued a 5-0 decision that opens the market to fresh U.S. potatoes in a long-running case over the role of its federal government in establishing trade regulations. U.S. potatoes had been banned beyond a 16-mile stretch along the U.S. border since 1996 over concerns about plant disease.
The National Potato Council estimates exports of fresh potatoes to Mexico will grow to USD200m, from the current USD60m.