About 193 million cwt. of U.S.-grown potatoes were in storage on Feb. 1, 5% more than last year at the same time, but 3% less than two years ago.

February potato stocks up 5% from 2009

Frankel

About 77 million cwt. of that total are in Idaho sheds, according to the Feb. 17 Potato Stocks report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.

The only other state with more than 15 million cwt. on hand was Washington, which had 43 million cwt.

While still high, stocks are down significantly from the month before. On Jan. 1, about 235 million spuds  nationwide remained to be shipped.

There are probably fewer potatoes in storage than the USDA is reporting, said Lee Frankel, president and chief executive officer of United Potato Growers of America, Salt Lake City.

Because of depressed markets, shippers are being pickier about the quality of spuds they ship, Frankel said. As a result, February stocks are lower than January stocks, he said.

“Most operations are grading harder than normal,” Frankel said. “A lot have made efforts to tighten their standards.”

Unfortunately, Frankel said, prices have not risen accordingly to reflect the lower stocks. But that could change soon.

“In March there tends to be a realignment of prices to get in line with where stocks are,” he said.

Still, a major market adjustment is not likely, Frankel said. If prices start to rise, shippers could relax their extra-high standards and ship more of the spuds that had been kept out of the market when prices were low.

That, in turn, could put the brakes on any upward price pressure.

As a result, retailers should have no trouble finding enough product for promotions heading into spring, Frankel said.