Weather, not climate – French Fry Shortage looms

Mark Albright, former Washington State Climatologist writes:

Due to the cold snowy late winter weather in eastern Washington and Oregon we may experience a french fry shortage this summer.

Late potato planting could affect french fry supply

By Anna King


A bit north of Pasco, Washington, circle irrigation machines fan out in the distance, dark skeletons against the dirty snow and matching sky. Ed Schneider has grown french-fry-making potatoes here for 40 years. But this year, America’s fries are on the line.

“I mean, this is unheard of,” Schneider said. “We usually plant the last couple days of February and, for sure, [are] going by March 1. There’s been some other years when we’re delayed three, four days, but never four weeks.”

The fertile fields in Washington and Oregon are just now drying out from severe winter snow, and potato farmers like Schneider are a month behind in planting. A cool spring — along with this late start — could throw Schneider’s yields off by between 30 and 40 percent. “We need some warm,” he said.

American potatoes are grown on a precise and tight schedule. Northwest farmers grow about 70 percent of the potatoes for the nation’s french fries, as well as other processed potato products like hash browns and tater tots, according to Chris Voigt, head of the Washington State Potato Commission.

Source/full story: Marketplace

69 thoughts on “Weather, not climate – French Fry Shortage looms

  1. Darwin Shrugged: Adapt or eat quinoa.

    My limited experience of watching my Grandmother always plant potatoes on Good Friday whenever that was indicates about a month of flexibility with the rigid requirement of planting on Good Friday.

    • Are you sure your memory isn’t failing you? No sensible, old-time horticulturist would ever pick a day, wildly varying from season to season, to plant an important crop like potatoes.

      • I grew up on a Southern Indiana farm. We always planted corn on Derby Day, the first Saturday in May.

        While it not as movable feast day as Good Friday, it is a day which is written in stone, so to speak.

      • I was told Good Friday by some oldie in the past. I find the potatoes I failed to harvest last year are usually showing above ground by then so I’m not sure it really matters on a domestic scale.

    • No! No! No! This means I will have to dedicate a portion of my yard to growing potatoes, for the sole purpose of providing baby reds for stew and potato salad! I cannot – will NOT – endure a season without baby red potatotes!!!

      Life will simply not be the same…. I am sad.

      • Sara—Yep, time to break out the shovel and seed catalogues, or visit your local greenhouse or hardware store. If you want those baby reds, it’s best to depend on yourself!

        Small scale you can protect the plants so your odds are pretty good on success.

    • Around the Denver area, St. Patrick’s day is usually the rule of thumb. Potatoes will take a lot of cold conditions as long as the ground temp is around 50 F. I’ve seen a hard freeze kill the vegetation twice in a cold month and still had viable potatoes.

      • ? St. Patrick’s day ?

        Well, you have the wrong saint, with the date.
        Gertrude of Nivelles is the patron saint of cats and gardens.
        Unlike that false Irish fellow, she did plant things.
        Image: St. Gertrude

  2. The good new is that because of global warming, the growing season will be longer, right?? 😉

    • Not here, there won’t. Maybe in whatever 3rd world country we raid to top of our potato supply, but they’ll get a lot of extra money so they won’t have much to complain about either.

      • The Irish Potato Famine was not a result of no potatoes grown in Ireland. There were fewer potatoes grown in Ireland and by contract, x tons of potatoes had to be sent to
        England. After the contracted amount of potatoes were to sent England, there were not enough to feed the Irish.

        • I think there were 8 varieties avaliable to be planted, but the Irish had a strong preference for a variety that was used to make fluffy mashed potatoes. But it was very prone to the new disease . The real tragedy was that there were plenty of grains grown, especially oats, but these were shipped to England to feed horses by a callous government and greedy and thoughtless land owners, many of them absent, living in luxury in England. No wonder the Irish reacted the way they did.

      • Third world countries can (unfortunately) rarely grow potatoes, it is not a crop that tolerates a tropical climate, except in high mountains (they grow a lot in Tibet and the Andes and some in the Kenya highlands).

        I say unfortunately, for it is an ideal crop for the very poor. It is very productive, can be grown with minimal tools and equipment and contains virtually all needed nutrients.

        • tropics grow sweet potatos and not just the common orange version which i dislike, theres the white skin purple skin and one in phillipines thats very yellow inside and makes THE best mash and it absorbs milk n butter cery well for much larger result than our normal spuds give.
          all of them make good roast spud and chips as well. lash out ,be daring;-)

  3. These articles are worthless. Monday I read about a looming price jump in avocados. Tuesday, I went to Kroger’s and avocados were 5 for $1. I bought 10. We have been eating avocados all week. Good for what ails you and tasty too.

  4. Many tons of potatoes are thrown away and destroyed by contract growers each year, because they don’t gauge to size, or aren’t quite pretty enough. Even with a shortened season, there will be no actual potato shortage.
    The same goes for many other fruits and vegetables grown under the modern ag/market system.
    The only shortages of food in the modern world, are local events unforeseen, or perpetrated by man.
    I don’t have any answers, just observations.

    • That happens across the board with veg, and it is actually quite disturbing the wastage just ‘coz it looks ugly and not like the adverts.

      • If the veggies are too ugly then sell them as ‘heirlooms’ and the dumb city folks will pay xtra for ’em.

        • no Mumbles, because the heirlooms really ARE tastier and not bred to handle much transport bruising. one bite and you’d know you were ripped off.
          im picking very late black russian tomatos and also green zebra that will produce into aus winter , there is NO comparison to commercial crud at all

      • The best tasting oranges in the world are Kona oranges in Hawaii. They are ugly but very good tasting. We have a tendency to value beauty over substance (in more than foods)

      • like EU cauing tonnes of cucumbers to be trashed cos they weent dead straight. the opposit with bananas they had to have a certain bend. people now dont even know other than perfect fruit exists it seems.

        in Aus we hav a company marketing ugly carrot and apple etc using the smaller/wonky produce. I loather the huge watery tasteless nectarines apricots and peaches sold now as compared to older varieties smaller skin marked or freckled and soooooo full of flavour.
        i search out local backyard fruits and look for seconds in the shops by preference.

    • True. In fields in front of my parents house the pickers throw many thousands of tomatoes/peppers on the ground when they don’t look good enough for groceries.

    • Potatoes. Some pretty some not so much. Tater Tots created out of left over edges and pieces when making cut frozen fries. This left over stuff became garbage-sheep/hog/horse food that would have been sold for the hauling price to stock farmers. Remembering in military service witnessed a first for a country boy, machine pealed odd ball shaped small potatoes (sacked) coming out nice and semi-round

    • One of our local store brands (no-name, aka yellow brand) has a line of “naturally imperfect” bulk packs of mushrooms, peppers, apples, etc for a considerable discount.

  5. They look like chips to me. But what would I know? I am a Pom (D’tare), we brought you the chip!! Typical of the French, stealing our ideas.

  6. In todays global distribution system, I don’t foresee any lack of supply of anything food related.

  7. Polar Bears aren’t working. Undetectable rising sea levels aren’t working. Suicidal walruses aren’t working.
    I know! Get Joe Six-pack where it hurts: French Fry Shortage!

    Is this the best their overpaid PR Army can come up with? Desperation on the cusp of madness.

  8. First the GND vote of 0-57 for Edward Markey and now late planting in Jay Inslee’s farm belt. Good times for climate reality.

  9. Wrong, all the excess CO2 in the atmosphere is confusing the climate and causing Climate Chaos. 97% of Climate Goobers scientists agree.

  10. “We need some warm,” he said.

    I thought that too much warm was the problem, Al.
    After all, didn’t you say that the science is settled in that department?

  11. Weather is variable, as all farmers should be well aware of. You don’t plant your crops on any prescribed day. You plant when the spring soil conditions are suitable to promote germination and crop growth. Then you hope like hell adverse weather doesn’t cripple the crop before harvest time.

  12. It is too bad that nobody invented crop insurance to protect farmers from crop failure and nobody invented long haul trucks that could move potatoes from where there are lots to where there is a shortfall.

    Oh wait…

  13. I’m sure all U.K. residents will be sad to hear our friends in the USA will have to go without fries because of the latest havoc wrought by global warming, but fortunately there is a solution invented by the ever imaginative people in Scotland – deep fried Mars bars as sold in all good Glasgow fish and chip shops.

    I don’t know if Mars bars are sold in the States, they are very sticky chocolate and toffee goo flavoured which respond well to being dipped into deep fat friers and coated with batter.

    Adapting to climate worries yet again!

    • someone bought me one once…looked at it for a while and just couldnt eat it..
      theyre way sweet to start with and adding batter?
      i lack the suicide by chocolate gene obviously;-)

  14. My homesteading grain-growing great-grandparents from Sweden and Norway in N. Central Idaho (the eastern edge of The Palouse region) grew what they called “dry land” potatoes, some old-world variety which did not require irrigation, for personal consumption. My older relatives swore they were the best-tasting potatoes, bar none.

  15. Maybe not French fry type potatoes, I don’t know, but Florida seems to have been having a good year. Typical Earth weather – great in some areas, terrible in others. Just don’t publicize the former. Need to only publish bad weather news to give everyone a sense of dread.

  16. American potatoes are grown on a precise and tight schedule. Northwest farmers grow about 70 percent of the potatoes for the nation’s french fries, as well as other processed potato products like hash browns and tater tots, according to Chris Voigt, head of the Washington State Potato Commission.

    It is a little bit more complicated than this simplified “mainstream media” summary. As usual.

    The south-eastern Idaho and northern Utah-eastern Oregon-eastern Washington potato growing areas track a metric known as the “5 inch soil temperature” twice a day. (It’s published in every local newspaper, broadcast every hour on local radio stations, monitored by “official sites” across the region. Think of a coastal radio station listing the daily high and low tides.)

    In the spring, the 5 inch soil temperature gradually gets higher and higher. At a certain point in each valley, the soil is “warm enough” to begin plowing and planting. (Soil is frozen too hard in the winter to plow, to plant.)
    Through the summer growing season, the 5 inch soil temperature (and local rain fall/irrigation levels) are a very good predictor of the potato size and thus the fall potato futures markets and the farmer’s yearly profits.

    As the weather cools each fall in each valley in each region, the 5 inch soil temperature gets colder. The ground isn’t frozen yet, but the potatoes are getting firmer as the soil around them is colder.
    At some point, the potatoes are firm enough to be pulled up without damage, and the soil is not yet frozen hard enough that they can’t be harvested.

    Actual 5 inch Soil Temperature is a vital economic measure up there.
    Loose predictions of disaster due to global warming/snow and ice scare stories? Not so much value.

    • Some home gardeners place potatoes on the ground and cover them with straw or other mulch.
      Harvest requires moving the straw and looking for them.
      More commonly though, much of the root system and the potatoes are in the top 5 inches that RACook explains.

      • I tried the straw in car tyres, and into peastraw bales also, not good. went mucky.
        but they do ok in barkchips and dried grass cuttings with a bit of dirt throw into the mix in large pots/20litre buckets with drain holes etc

  17. More scaremongering from the fear merchants.

    “Late potato planting could affect french fry supply By Anna King
    …could throw Schneider’s yields off by between 30 and 40 percent. “We need some warm,” he said.

    American potatoes are grown on a precise and tight schedule.”

    Exactly whose french fries are in danger here?

    Why doesn’t Anna King go for the real fear in the fresh potato market?
    Anna should proclaim doom and gloom on Vodka production.

    1) “Schneider’s yields off by between 30 and 40 percent”. That is Schneider’s problem! Not the potato market!
    * a) Washington and Oregon are not the sole locations for potatoes, nor even french fried potatoes!
    * b) It appears that Anna is trying to rekindle the fear of another potato famine; false on many fronts.
    * c) Schneider’s 30-40% will barely make a blip in overall potato harvests.

    “American potatoes are grown on a precise and tight schedule”; welcome to the natural world toots!
    Nature is not kind nor patient and will happily starve people if they get into a fallacious belief regarding hard dates or worse, silly expectations for regular crops.

    It occurs to me that as much as I despise potato beetles, nonetheless, I will plant some potatoes this year. Just in case the panicky Anna’s of the world start paying high prices for potatoes.

  18. One year doesn’t make a trend, however, a 50-year Grand Solar Minimum has likely already started and the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic oceans are in (or soon will be) their respective 30-year cool cycles.

    Either of these phenomena cause global cooling, but when they’re concurrent, the cooling effect could be significant.

    During the Wolf GSM (1280~1350) severe famines from frost loss, low precipitation, and short growing seasons created unprecedented famines which wiped out 25% of Europe’s population….

    Severe world-wide famines were also prevalent during the Sporer and Maunder GSMs.

    It’ll be interesting to see what happens over the next 10 years.

  19. The southeast part of Washington State had plenty of snow and winds, so big drifts.
    Much of the US West got plenty of snow. To the northwest of the area mentioned,
    snow and irrigation water are on the low side.
    As many have noted, this is not going to be a serious issue region wide.
    That doesn’t help those farms that may suffer — and that won’t be known until
    the season shakes out.

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