Feb 27, 2023
Potato squeeze being acutely felt in organic russets

The 2022-23 storage crop of all potatoes is down as much as 5% from the previous year, a shortage being most acutely felt in the organic russet potato sector.

Packers are limiting shipments to stretch supplies, with one producer telling Organic Produce Network that the company is urging retailers not to promote organic potatoes.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported U.S. growers planted 910,000 acres of potatoes in 2022, 33,000 fewer than the previous year. Photo: File

“There is definitely a shortage of organic russets,” said Rob Greenwood, program development manager for RPE Inc. in Bancroft, Wisconsin. “Organic reds are always a bit tight this time of year, but they are tighter this year. Organic yellows are doing okay, and they appear to be on track until the West Coast starts up with new potatoes. The situation with organic yellows is not quite as dire.”

Several factors, including less acreage and lower yields, are behind the shortage.

With a new potato crop not due until spring, Greenwood is expecting a gap on organic russets.

“From late April or early May to at least mid-June, we are going to be searching for potatoes,” he said.

Conventional potatoes are also facing shortages but have a larger pool of available supply, Greenwood said.

“On the organic side, there are a smaller number of bins to choose from,” he said. “If you lose a bin (to disease or other quality issues), it makes a much bigger impact on your supplies.”

Market price has risen 10% to 20% in recent weeks.

RPE also sells organic specialty potatoes on a year-round basis from its sister company, Arvin, California-based Tasteful Selections.

“We have enough volume to fill our contracts, but currently supplies of both organic fingerlings and purple potatoes are tight,” Greenwood said.

Lonnie Gillespie, chief organic officer at Farm Fresh Direct of America in Monte Vista, Colorado, described to OPN an “unprecedented shortage of organic russets” at the company and nationwide.

“Organic yellows and reds are not packing out with the quality we want to see, but there are enough supplies to get us through the season,” she said. ”What we are trying to do is work out deals to get (organic) yellows and reds at a price point that gives retailers something to sell and gives consumers some potatoes to buy at a reasonable price.”

Gillespie said Farm Fresh will begin planting for the 2023 season in April.

“We have replaced our lost acreage, and we are hoping Mother Nature is kinder this year and we get better yields,” she said.

Eric Beck, director of marketing for Wada Farms Marketing Group in Idaho Falls, Idaho, said both organic and conventional crops reached historic acreage lows in 2022. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported U.S. growers planted 910,000 acres in 2022, 33,000 fewer than the previous year.

“The fact is demand has superseded supply,” Beck said. “There is a lot of volatility in the market right now.”

Organic potato supplies are getting tighter, he said, and predicted shortages by mid-April.

New supply from California and other regions is expected in April/May to help ease the organic situation through summer.

— Organic Produce Network

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