Wisconsin Growers Not as Hard-Hit as Western Counterparts

Published online: May 14, 2020 Articles
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Source: HortiDaily

While many potato growers across the nation are being forced to mash their spuds into the ground, Wisconsin's spud producers aren't feeling as hard a hit from COVID-19 as their Western counterparts are.

In big Western potato-producing states like Idaho, Washington and Oregon where the growing season is a month or two ahead of Wisconsin, some growers had to make the difficult decision to disc some fields of potatoes under.

A vast majority of their potato production goes to the processing food sector that supplies potato products to schools, restaurants and hotels. When the coronavirus shut those places down, that sector of the potato industry "basically fell off a cliff," says Tamas Houlihan, executive director of the  Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association.

About 20 percent of Wisconsin's potato production goes to McCain Foods to be made into french fries, hash browns and tater tots for the frozen processing food sector, which was hardest-hit in the pandemic. Wisconsin contracts for that processing sector were cut 25 percent, Houlihan said, but with the reduction affecting less than a quarter of the state's total potato industry, the impact was only about a 5 percent loss on the state's entire industry.

A large sector of Wisconsin potatoes goes to its chipping production where, the potatoes are turned into chips—a sector of the potato industry that is doing well right now, Houlihan says. About 25 percent of Wisconsin's potato product is for chips, with the state being one of the largest potato suppliers in the nation to Frito-Lay.