The United Nations declared 2008 the International Year of the Potato, to focus world attention on the role that the potato can play in providing food security. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there are, on average, about 190,000 square kilometres of potatoes under crop every year worldwide. The potato remains Australia’s favourite vegetable, consumed mainly as chips.
In an article published in Australian Geographic in June 2014, Michael Symons reported that we eat an average of 62kg of potatoes a year, but mainly as chips. During 2011, he says, children aged between 14 and 17 together ate 44.1 million serves of hot chips. However, industry estimates put Australians’ consumption of fresh potatoes at 23.9kg per capita in 2008-2009, 21.2kg in 2009-2010, and 20.6kg in 2010-2011. With 53 per cent of potato sales attributed to processed potatoes and 47 per cent to fresh, that comes to around 44kg per head.
And demand is falling. An Ausveg report in 2012 suggested that rice and pasta had made considerable inroads. It also pointed out that even though potatoes are Australia’s largest vegetable crop, they don’t share the healthy image of other vegetables. This is despite the fact that, if eaten with the skin, a potato provides a similar amount of potassium to a banana, and more iron and Vitamin C than half a cup of spinach.
The ABS reported in 2008 that Australia ranked well down the list of potato growing countries in about 35th place, with less populous nations such as Denmark, Rwanda, Belgium, Malawi and Kazakhstan, growing more. The world’s largest producer of potatoes is China (73.0 mill. tonnes in 2005); Russia (36.4 mill. tonnes), India (25.0 mill. tonnes), the Ukraine (19.5 mill. tonnes), and the United States of America (19.1 mill. tonnes) are the next biggest producers.