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‘It’s millions of dollars sitting there’: Maine potato industry hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic

With restaurants, cafeterias, fairs, sporting events, and countless other events closed—or just starting to open with fewer seats – Maine potato farmers are feeling the pressure from the coronavirus pandemic.

Many farmers are trying to sell the larger potatoes they have in stock to retail stores like Hannaford. Hannaford has seen success with the Maine product in its 183 stores throughout New England.

“We have bought 500 thousand pounds more than we have normally purchased this time of year,” Kim Kuusela, the Local Merchandising Specialist for Hannaford, said. The grocery store chain has bought 500,000 more pounds of potatoes compared to its usual order this time of year.

It’s definitely the driver of local product that is moving for a produce lift in sales,” Kuusela said.

But many farmers are not able to repackage for retail sales.

U.S. Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, urging him to help the Maine potato industry.

“It’s not so easy to say, ‘oh, what we don’t sell to McDonald’s we are going to sell to Hannaford’… it’s a much more complex problem than that,” King said to NEWS CENTER Maine.

“We need help, and the reason is that 40 percent of the main potato crop goes into processing, goes into mostly french fries, which mostly go to restaurants and that market has just died as you can tell… and it’s cut the demand for the product this year and also for the product next year,” Kind said. 

King got a response from the USDA,  acknowledging his efforts on behalf of potato farmers in Maine. The agency says it will take into consideration his suggestions in the final rulemaking of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program Act.

“Working with the department of agriculture on a whole series of levels basically to provide help by buying potatoes and also some direct help to farmers,” King said.

Read King’s letter to the USDA and their response

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Lukie Pieterse, Editor and Publisher

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