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New problems arise for crop storage as planet gets warmer

For generations, Brian Sackett’s family has farmed potatoes that are made into chips found on grocery shelves in much of the eastern U.S. About 25% of the nation’s potato chips get their start in Michigan, where reliably cool air during September harvest and late spring has been ideal for crop storage. That’s a big reason why the state produces more chipping potatoes than any other, writes John Flesher in this Associated Press news story.

But with temperatures edging higher, Sackett had to buy several small refrigeration units for his sprawling warehouses. Last year, he paid $125,000 for a bigger one. It’s expensive to operate, but beats having his potatoes rot.

“Our good, fresh, cool air is getting less all the time, it seems like,” he said on a recent morning as a front-end loader scooped up piles of plump, light-brown potatoes that would be packed into a tractor trailer for shipment to chip factories.

The situation here illustrates a little-noticed hazard that climate change is posing for agriculture in much of the world. Once harvested, crops not immediately consumed or processed are stored — sometimes for months. The warming climate is making that job harder and costlier.

The annual period with outdoor air cool enough to store potatoes in Michigan’s primary production area likely will shrink by up to 17 days by mid-century and up to a month by the late 2100s, according to an analysis by Julie Winkler, a Michigan State University geography and climate scientist.

Techmark Inc., an agricultural engineering company based in Lansing, Michigan, designed the Sackett farm’s equipment. Co-owner Todd Forbush, whose customers also include growers of sugar beets, onions and carrots, said storage of those crops increasingly will need refrigeration.

Growers will face tough choices about the economics of their operations. Producers who install equipment to regulate temperature and humidity will see power costs rising as the outside air gets hotter.

The AP video below can also be watched on YouTube here.

Source: Associated Press. Go here to read the full story and watch a video
Photo: In a March 11, 2021 photo, potatoes are examined along a conveyor belt before being loaded into a tractor trailer at the Sackett Potato farm in Mecosta, Mich. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Author: Follow John Flesher on Twitter: @johnflesher

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