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Northwest’s annual potatoes are being thrown out in favor of new potatoes

For two years, Northwest farmers did not have enough potatoes for processors.

The harvest was lower than expected. Processors bought potatoes from the Midwest, East Coast, and even Canada to make fries. Fast food restaurants were not getting all the fries they could sell.

But last year the processors secured and planted more. Baw-wang! A lot of potatoes were dug out of the ground. Now those potatoes are aging in storage, and the new crop is about to be dug up. There are still too many potatoes.

Dale Lathim is executive director of Potato Growers of Washington, which represents growers in Washington and Oregon.

“A year ago we had the shortest supply situation in history, and this year we have the longest supply situation in history,” Lathim said. “So in one short year we went from one extreme to the other.”

To remedy the situation, processors paid for additional potatoes, but growers disposed of them for other uses, such as cattle feed or food banks.

“Some of them were thrown into fields and canyons and wherever we can just get rid of them,” Lathim said. “Our winters aren’t severe enough to do that, so it was very limited in terms of what was happening here. But in Idaho and Alberta, where the winters are much harsher, most of those potatoes went fallow where they wouldn’t be a problem for diseases and pests.”

Adam Weber farms several thousand acres near Quincy — potatoes, sweet corn, apples, cherries and irrigated red winter wheat.

“We cut (our potatoes) by 10 percent, but everyone in all commodities took a hit,” he said. “It could have been worse. There are a lot of guys who cut more than that.”

Weber said growing fewer potatoes and making less money is not pleasant.

“It makes you have to tighten your belts and watch every dollar you spend,” he said.

A worker in the Columbia Basin helps sort Northwest potatoes during the 2018 harvest.
(Source: Anna King / NWPB)

Oh, fluffy

If you think fresh, golden, fluffy-on-the-inside French fries are your thing, this is almost your peak season! The best time to eat French fries is from August to mid-October. That’s when farmers start digging potatoes in central Colombia and French fries processors fill the pipeline with the new crop.

Lathim said the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates this year’s crop will be decent, so there will be plenty of fries from the Northwest.

According to United States Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics ServiceFarmers in Washington, Oregon and Idaho are expected to start work on about 30,000 acres next week in July, and on about 516,000 acres this year.