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Climate Change, Booming Potato Chip Market Threaten Idaho Potato Harvest

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Potatoes damaged by heat while in warm storage. - BY FLICKR USER GRALBEARD, CC BY 2.0


As Idaho prepares to embrace its potato state stereotype by dropping a giant spud in front of the Statehouse on New Year's Eve, Gem State farmers are expressing serious concern about the fate of Idaho potato crops in 2016.

According to the Idaho Department of Agriculture, more than 131 million units of potatoes were harvested across 316,000 acres of Idaho farmland during 2013. That was more than 33 percent of all of the potatoes harvested in the United States. The crop is grown almost entirely in the southern portion of the state in the Snake River Plain. Each year's crop is valued between $550 million and $700 million.

This morning's Twin Falls Times-News reports that Bruce Huffaker, publisher of the North American Potato Market News told growers at the University of Idaho conference earlier this month that an excess of potatoes grown in other parts of the U.S. (i.e. North Dakota, Wisconsin, Minnesota) during the past harvest year drove down prices.

"Given that we had too many potatoes last year, that was a little disconcerting," Huffaker told the Times-News, adding that warmer than average temperatures during the harvest meant more potatoes were put into warm storage and "those quality losses could pull Idaho's crop down as much as 3.7 percent."

The Times-News reports "complicating the price outlook" for potatoes is the potato chip market—up 10 percent. It turns out chip potatoes are largely grown in the Midwest. Idaho primarily grows potatoes for the "fresh potato" marketplace.