Changing food patterns leaves South Korean potato farmer unsure of future, says USDA

A shift in consumer demand is affecting the South Korean potato yield more than the weather, suggests a USDA report.

Over the years, South Korea’s potato production has declined gradually, from 704,623 MT in CY 2000 to 464,772 MT in CY 2017 (down 34 percent over the past 18 years).  This is more because of the changing family patterns and preference of imported processed potato based food.

Experts believe that a reduced demand for side dishes in households, which were essentially potato based, has affected potato consumption in South Korea. Also, an increasing number of families are shrinking (single- or two-member households). And then there also an increased demand for processed potato products. All this has hit the potato farmer’s profits.

Processed food is using more imported potato and comprise prepared, frozen and dehydrated potatoes as well. As a result of reduced consumer demand for domestic table potatoes, cultivated area has also declined from 29,415 hectares (Ha) in CY 2000 to 20,974 Ha in CY 2017, down 28.7 percent.

In CY 18 however, production is expected to increase to 530,000 metric tons (MT), as potato farmers are responding to higher prices caused by low supply in CY 2017. Overall consumption is expected to remain steady as well.

However, the South Korean consumer will continue to long for imported potato and imported processed potato products (including potatoes used for chipping and French fries). That is one reason that U.S. exports of fresh table potatoes to South Korea are projected to increase in CY 2018. This is also a result of a resolution coming by of a phyto-sanitary issue (zebra chip) which had initially stalled trade from states in the Pacific Northwest for a long time.

The Korean potato farmer has been left insecure with his fluctuating potato production that continues to depend on either erratic weather conditions or a response to consumer demand. An estimated increase in demand for potato is also being seen in more and more recipes using potato and in Quick Service Restaurant sector. But this is going to be of no consequence to the Korean farmer.

Again, potato preferences are shifting to imports which is forecast to increase steadily this year.

Uttara is a correspondent with Indoasiancommodities. You can write to her on uttara.malhotra@indoasiancommodities.in.

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