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Potato crisis in Washington state: 1 billion of 3 billion pounds in storage might not be used, says exec director

The economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic has slammed broadside against the Washington potato and dairy industries, with both facing the prospect of dumping product because markets have disappeared, reports Thomas Clouse of The Spokesman-Review.

Restaurants have mostly shut down, which eliminated a major market for processed potatoes. That includes everything from instant mashed potatoes to french fries. As a result, Washington growers have 1 billion pounds of potatoes in storage with no place to sell them, said Chris Voigt, executive director of the Washington Potato Commission.

“That’s a lot of potatoes,” Voigt said. “Every man, woman and child in Washington state would have to eat 200 pounds of potatoes between now and the Fourth of July.

Producers actually have 3 billion pounds in storage, but about 70% of all spuds grown in the Evergreen State are exported. So far, those exports have remained strong. “But we are estimating that 1 billion pounds will not be used,” Voigt said.

Voigt said about 90% of the potatoes grown in Washington are processed into products such as french fries. Of those processed potatoes, about 95% are sold to restaurants.

“When you shut down the restaurants, it has a devastating impact to us,” he said. “So processors are really slowing down production. They will have to come to a stop if we can’t revitalize the economy and restaurant industry.”

Several farmers already had planted a new crop in the Tri-Cities area, and others were preparing to do so near Moses Lake.

“The processors came back to the growers a week and a half ago and said, ‘Stop planting. We can’t commit to buying potatoes if we don’t have a home for them.’ There really is no other crops they can grow that will recover that type of loss,” Voigt said. “We hope the USDA will step up and help them cover those losses.”

Read Clouse’s full report in The Spokesman-Review here. He can be reached at [email protected]
Photo: Washivore

Lukie Pieterse, Editor and Publisher of Potato News Today

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