IDAHO FALLS, Idaho - The demand for Idaho potatoes is going down and local growers are feeling the pinch. Prices for fresh market potatoes have dropped dramatically in the last three weeks, making it hard for farmers to make money.
"It is hard to stay excited through the rest of the year because of the price, but hopefully we can rebound just a little bit and get the price to where it used to be," said potato farmer Bart Wattenbarger.
At this time last year potato Wattenbarger saw an $8 or $9 return for 100 pounds of potatoes. Now data compiled by a University of Idaho Agricultural Economist shows his return is less than $5. Wattenbarger said that is below the cost of production.
"The price for all the different packs are down. It is the bigger cartons that move into the institutional trade where we are seeing the biggest drop and that is where farmers look to for their money makers," said Economist Paul Patterson.
Patterson said the prices for the 70-80 potato cartons are down more than 50 percent and the cartons in grocery stores are down 10 percent to 15 percent.
"Consumers may enjoy some lower prices assuming that the retailers pass this on. The other thing is as that margin increases that may be captured by the retailers and whether it not it gets passed on to the consumer only time will tell," Patterson said.
Only time will tell if local growers get back to their profitable return. Right now, theories are circulating as to what is causing prices to fall.
"The biggest reason is over shipment and the customers on the other end believed we were going to over plant for this coming year," said Wattenbarger.
Meanwhile, Patterson said people are eating more processed food, leading to the decline. He also said fluctuating prices in the potato industry is common.