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Idaho potato acres dip below 300,000 for second time since 1970

Idaho potato acres in 2020 will be under 300,000, only the second time that has happened since 1970.

By Sean Ellis

Idaho Farm Bureau Federation

POCATELLO – Idaho potato acres in 2020 will be under 300,000, only the second time that has happened since 1970.

Spud acres in Idaho, which leads the nation in potato production, totaled 308,780 last year.

Idaho potato farmers planted 295,790 acres of spuds this year, down 4 percent from 2019, according to United Potato Growers of Idaho, which conducts a physical count of potato acres in Idaho every year.

Most people involved in the state’s potato industry had expected Idaho potato acres to dip below 300,000 this year because of demand disruptions caused by the government-ordered shutdowns related to the COVID-19 outbreak. 

About 60 percent of U.S. potatoes go to the foodservice sector and the spud industry was hit hard by the closures of restaurants, schools, cafeterias and other foodservice channels.

Many industry members had expected Idaho’s 2020 potato acres to be closer to 280,000, said Oakley farmer Randy Hardy.

“I kind of thought it would be down more than it is and I’ve heard different people comment that they thought it would be down more than that,” he said.

But Hardy also said the potato market is rebounding quicker than most people thought it would as restaurants and other foodservice channels have started reopening across the country.

“The foodservice sector, particularly quick-serve restaurants, is coming back faster than people thought it would,” he said. “Right now, our market is strong. Demand is good.”

UPGI’s Idaho acreage estimate seems reasonable given the strengthening market, Hardy said.

“I think that (295,790-acre number) is a very manageable number,” he said. “There is pretty good demand out there; people still have to eat. I think all in all, it’s a pretty good number.”

Travis Blacker, the Idaho Potato Commission’s industry relations director, agreed with Hardy’s take on the acreage count and market rebound.

“I think two months ago, if you had asked people what they thought the acreage count would be, they would have said maybe 280,000 or 275,000,” he said. “It seems like the market has begun to rebound and processors are out looking for potatoes, which is a good thing.”

To conduct its annual potato acreage count, UPGI sends two-man teams out to physically count every potato field in the state. The teams drive thousands of miles looking for every potato field in Idaho.

“They go to every county and they drive every road,” Blacker said.

USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service estimates Idaho’s total spud acreage in 2020 at 300,000.

Idaho potato farmers generally place more stock in UPGI’s estimate.

“I think United’s (2020) count is probably accurate,” Hardy said.

NASS projects the 2020 potato acreage count in Washington, the nation’s No. 2 spud-producing state, at 145,000, down 12 percent from 165,000 last year.

Total U.S. potato acreage in 2020 is estimated at 921,000 by NASS, down 5 percent from 968,000 in 2019.

Bingham County remained the No. 1 potato producing county in Idaho with 57,110 acres planted in 2020, according to the UPGI estimate. That was down from 60,211 acres in 2019.

Power County ranked No. 2 with 30,424 acres, down from 33,471 acres in 2019, and Madison County ranked No. 3 with 30,279 acres, up from 30,066 in 2019.