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COVID-19 crisis influences the global and North American potato industries

Dear potato folks, the current and daily issues regarding the COVID-19 crisis are no doubt impacting most of us, and also the industries that we are involved in, of course. Most – if not all of you – are indeed experiencing this on a daily, and even on a hourly basis.

Here, from my vantage point as editor and publisher of Potato News Today, I wish to tell you that I am receiving dozens and dozens of emails as well as other messages via my online accounts from folks telling me of how they are being affected seriously by this unprecedented crisis and suffering – right now and daily, as we speak.

From my vantage point, there is really no potato producing country in the world left untouched by this pandemic from what I can tell. I can for sure recount COVID-related stories from many, many potato producing countries around the globe. I can relate to you stories from around the globe, but let me stick to a few of these from North America for now.

In the US, where the National Potato Council says the potato industry is $4 billion annually with 60 percent of that total involving food service, potato growers across the country appreciate Secretary Perdue’s rapid action intended to stabilize family farms whose survival is threatened due to the mandated food service shutdown. Total acres of Idaho’s iconic potato crop could decrease significantly this year as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

Although there was a rush on potatoes at grocery stores early on in the US, that has abated somewhat and has not been enough to make up for a major decrease in sales of potatoes and potato products through food service channels, according to industry leaders.

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.

In Canada, the the board of directors of United Potato Growers of Canada reports that contract negotiations have started with one meeting with McCain Foods and one with Old Dutch.

Canadian potato growers have reportedly indicated to processors that their cost of production has risen significantly since their last settlement and need to be recognized in this round noted processors are trying to utilize every potato they can, to get as far into the season as possible, according to General Manager of the Potato Growers of Canada, Kevin MacIsaac.

“With the new JR Simplot expansion, Manitoba will require an additional 5,000 acres of potatoes, which may be a struggle to get – even with creative incentives,” the United general manager said.

It seems to be a total mess all around and all over the world, no doubt…

In the words of Kam Quarles: “What we have identified is that there is between $750 million and $1.5 billion of products that are clogged up in the potato pipeline right now.”

Nearly unimaginable, but very real and very true right now for so many in the potato industry…

Washington state growers in the US 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.”

Please keep your messages coming, folks – I will publish these here on Potato News Today as often and as best I can?


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Lukie Pieterse, Editor and Publisher

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