WA potato farmers on the brink with a billion pounds of unused spuds

Apr 22, 2020, 7:41 AM | Updated: 10:15 am
Washington's potato farmers are on the brink. (Unsplash)

Washington growers have a billion pounds of potatoes sitting around that they can’t get rid of because restaurants don’t need them.

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No fully-loaded baked potatoes at your favorite steak house. No shoestring fries with your favorite pub burger. When the restaurants closed and went all take-out because of the coronavirus, demand for Washington spuds plummeted, and Washington’s 250 growers are facing a potentially fatal financial situation.

“We’re trying to be as optimistic as we can, but in the meantime we’ve got growers on the brink of financial collapse,” Washington Potato Commission executive director Chris Voigt told the Ag Information Network.

Ninety percent of Washington potatoes go to processors. Ninety-five percent of those spuds go restaurants and schools.

“When all of that shuts down, it has a huge ramification for all the processors and the growers,” he said.

There are 4 billion pounds of potatoes already harvested. About 70% of that will be shipped overseas, and that business is doing fine, but that leaves a billion pounds in storage.

“We’ve got about a billion pounds that we’re just not going to be able get to, or if we do, it’s going to back up the pipeline and we’ll have to be turning away the new crop because we have so much old crop,” Voigt said. “It’s really created a mess.”

Why not donate the potatoes?

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Voigt said the growers are trying to do just that, but you can’t just dump all the potatoes on food banks.

“To eliminate a billion pounds of potatoes, everybody that went to a food bank would have to take 600 pounds of potatoes for every man, woman, and child that goes to a food bank between now and July 4th,” he said.

And they don’t have the infrastructure to move that much.

How dire are the financial circumstances?

Voigt said there are farmers that already have $800,000 invested in the summer crop that they’ll never be able to recover because no one will want those potatoes when they are harvested. With a glut of potatoes, those farmers that can sell their product have seen the wholesale price fall below the costs to produce them.

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WA potato farmers on the brink with a billion pounds of unused spuds