Dec 5, 2019
Pump the brakes on the shortage of french fries

Chances are you’ve seen the headlines regarding an impending french fry shortage.

A Dec. 2 story from Bloomberg, titled “America Braces for Possible French Fry Shortage After Poor Potato Harvest,” sparked a slew of similar headlines, including from ABC News, CNN, USA Today, People magazine and numerous other regional media outlets. Most directly referenced Bloomberg’s article, which quoted Travis Blacker of the Idaho Potato Commission saying fry demand was “outstanding lately, so supplies can’t meet the demand.”

It is true Idaho and the Red River Valley — including North Dakota, Minnesota and Manitoba — experienced bad weather during harvest, which will likely lead to reduced production from regular numbers in those areas. Other areas, including Wisconsin, Michigan and Maine, are expected to increase potato output.

Overall, the USDA-NASS projects a 6% decrease in potato production relative to 2018. While it is never good for individual farms to lose portions of their crops, the industry, as a whole, is positioned to make up for losses.

The message from potato industry leaders is: Don’t worry, we’re not going to run out of fries.

On Dec. 4 — two days after Bloomberg’s article — the N.Y. Times interviewed Frank Muir, CEO of the Idaho Potato Commission.

“Don’t panic about the french fries,” Muir told the N.Y. Times. “You can still go out and order them like you normally do.”

Washington, the U.S.’s second-largest potato producer, sells most of its crop to processors, and no state exports more potatoes. State commission head Chris Voigt told Spudman Dec. 4 that the notion that consumers won’t be able to get french fries on a mass level isn’t going to happen, although didn’t rule out things getting a little tight at times, especially for niche items.

“You’re going to be able to walk into McDonald’s or Burger King and get all the fries you want,” Voigt said. He added that potential shortages, although unlikely, would be spotty and in the specialty market. “Maybe a special cut of a waffle fry that’s only available at a restaurant during a certain month of the year or something like that, but that would be about it.”

Blair Richardson, executive director of Potatoes USA, posted on social media about the situation, saying that it is “unlikely that our country will run out of fries.” He noted that adjustments are already underway.

“The potato farmers are already doing everything they possibly can to protect the quality of the potatoes currently in storage that were affected by the freezing weather to avoid additional losses,” Richardson said. “Moreover, potato farmers across the country are adjusting their plans where possible to add incremental production in areas where harvest is early like the southern states.

“Many potato farmers will also plant early maturing varieties where possible to hopefully help offset some of the losses from this past year.”

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