U.S. Could Face Fry Shortage

Published online: Dec 04, 2019 Articles Charisse Jones
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Source: USA Today

A cold snap may put a freeze on French fries as farmers deal with smaller potato crops this year.

From an extended rainy period in the Red River Valley of North Dakota, to an early frost in Idaho, weather negatively affected the country's potato harvest, reducing the expected haul in the U.S. by 6 percent as compared to 2018, according to the USDA.

As of early November, only 73 percent of total crops had been harvested.

In Idaho, the state that grows one-third  of all potatoes produced in the U.S., a freeze hit between Oct. 9 and 11.

"You can only harvest potatoes once a year, so you've got one shot at it,'' says Frank Muir, president and CEO of the Idaho Potato Commission. "When you have a prolonged frost like that, it can be pretty devastating to our crop.''

However, the cold snap mostly struck the eastern part of the state. In Idaho's western and southern regions, harvesting began in the summer and extended into early fall. That means by the start of October, 85% of the state's crop had been picked and put in storage.

Still, among those that remained in the ground, as much as 30% were damaged, and "there were some fields that were probably a total loss,'' Muir said. 

The demand for French fries has gone global, gaining popularity particularly in Asia. And bad weather has reportedly also affected potato crops in Canada.

Some makers of frozen French fries who had been going elsewhere have reached out to Idaho farmers for some of their supplies, Muir says.