Cultivation/Production, North America, Processing, fries, chips, Studies/Reports, Sustainability, Trends, Weather/Climate

Changing climate challenges potato growers, chipmakers

Michigan is the largest grower of potatoes for chips in the US — about one in four bags sold in the US is made from Michigan potatoes. Can climate change jeopardize the state’s dominance? Maybe, a new study warns.

That’s because warming temperatures will require more ventilation and refrigeration — and thus higher energy bills — to store potatoes after harvesting and in the spring and early summer before processors need them to make chips.

“Climate change impacts that increase storage costs and reducing the profit margin for growers may render storage a less effective marketing strategy and contribute to seasonal shortages,” according to the study in the journal “Climatic Change.”

The study projected climate for the early, mid- and late 21st century for two Michigan potato-growing areas: a northern area in Greenville, Montcalm County, and a southern area in Eau Claire, Berrien County.

Julie Winkler, a Michigan State University climatologist and lead author of the study, said the findings highlight a number of challenges confronting the industry.

For example, many growers store their potatoes only in insulated ventilated facilities, “but if a farmer needs air conditioning, that raises the cost,” she said.

Another climate change consequence is that potato farming might expand northward, while some southern areas would become less profitable, Winkler said. And she said there also are implications for breeders who need to develop varieties adapted to warmer temperatures.

Mike Wenkel, the executive director of the potato commission, said the industry already is addressing the changing climate. For example, breeders are working on newer varieties that can be stored longer.

“The ability for us to have varieties that can store longer will also help with that necessity for refrigeration,” he said. “We will see growers investing in that refrigeration capacity for a multitude of reasons. The variability of climate could play a role in that, but it’s not necessarily the driving force.”

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