Northwest Faces Unprecedented Potato Glut; 165,000 Tons Set For Destruction
For the spud, the year 2023 has been a dud. Even though Americans consume more than 4.5 billion pounds of French fries annually, Northwest potato farmers are staring at the prospect of destroying an overwhelming surplus of premium french-fry-making Russet potatoes.
Anna King from NW News Network reported that an estimated 165,000 tons, equivalent to 5,000 loaded semi-trucks, from Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Alberta, are slated to either be dumped into cattle troughs or outright destroyed.
Dale Lathim, President of the Potato Marketing Association of North America, expressed his dismay over the situation. “It’s an economic hit, it’s a psychological slap in the face. When you produce a crop, you aim to utilize all you can produce,” Lathim said.
Farmers, witnessing a much better year for their crops than the last two, had planted an additional 55,000 acres, anticipating a robust demand. However, the enthusiastic planting has led to an enormous glut of potatoes, primarily from Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Alberta.
“In my 30 years in the industry, I’ve never seen anything like this,” commented Lathim. With an overabundance of supply and limited demand, farmers have resorted to offloading their produce to feedlots, dairies, and anyone willing to accept them.
Although only about 5,000 acres out of the additional 55,000 will be destroyed, the situation remains alarming. Lathim emphasized that the excess potatoes if left unattended, could escalate the costs for growers. Despite being unsold, the spuds have to be harvested, transported, and disposed of appropriately. Plus, if neglected or stored improperly, they pose the risk of causing disease, rot, and insect infestations.
The sheer volume of the glut problem makes it hard for food banks to absorb the excess. However, Lathim said he’s willing to help coordinate a pickup from any Northwest food bank that wants to take on the extra taters.
This problem will likely carry over to next year’s farmers’ woes. That’s because major potato processors will use 10% more potatoes from this year going into next year — the companies have already warned growers they will have to cut back an additional 10% in 2024.