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For two years, farmers in the northwest did not have enough potatoes for processing.

The crop was below expectations. Processors bought potatoes from the Midwest, the East Coast and even Canada to make French fries. Fast food restaurants did not get as many French fries as they could sell.

But last year, processors planted more potatoes and held back. Baw-wang! Huge quantities of potatoes were dug out of the ground. Now those potatoes are aging in the warehouses and the new crop is just being harvested. There are still too many potatoes.

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

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

To deal with this situation, processors paid for the extra potatoes but let growers dispose of them for other purposes, such as animal feed or food banks.

“Some of those were dumped in fields and ravines and anywhere else where we could just get rid of them,” Lathim said. “Here, the winter isn’t harsh enough to do much of that, so what happened here was very limited. But in Idaho and Alberta, where there’s a much harsher winter, most of those potatoes ended up in fallow fields where they don’t pose a problem with disease and pests.”

Adam Weber farms a few thousand acres toward Quincy – potatoes, sweet corn, apples, cherries and irrigated red winter wheat.

“We cut (our potatoes) by 10%, but all other commodities were down,” he said. “It could have been worse. There are many who cut even more.”

Weber said it’s no fun growing fewer potatoes and earning less money.

“It makes you tighten your belt a little bit and watch every dollar that goes out,” he said.

A worker in the Columbia Basin helps sort Northwest potatoes during the 2018 harvest.

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

Oh, fluffy

If fresh, golden brown, fluffy French fries are your product, now is almost peak season! The best time to eat French fries is from about August to mid-October. That’s when farmers in Mid-Columbia start harvesting potatoes and French fry processors fill the pipeline with the new crop.

Lathim said the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates an average crop this year, and therefore there will be plenty of Northwest fries.

According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service of the U.S. Department of AgricultureIt is estimated that farmers in Washington, Oregon and Idaho will turn over about 30,000 acres starting next week in July, for a total of about 516,000 acres this year.