Poor Potato Crop Leads to Fears of French Fry Shortage

December 6, 2019

This week, multiple news outlets reported about a poor potato crop in Canada and the U.S. that could potentially affect the nation’s French fry supply. With winter weather arriving early throughout North America, potato growers lost thousands of acres of crops due to freezing temperatures. As a result, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that American spud production will drop by six percent this year. And since potatoes used for French fries tend to be harvested later in the season, these varieties were hit especially hard during the chill.

Initial reports about the poor potato crop warned that the U.S. could soon experience a shortage of one of its favorite foods. According to industry insiders, however, these fears are likely exaggerated since farmers managed to get most of their potatoes out of the ground before the freeze. For instance, growers in Idaho harvested about 85 percent of their crop this year, which still amounts to 13 billion potatoes. “Don’t panic about the French fries,” said Frank Muir, president of the Idaho Potato Commission. “You can still go out and order them like you normally do.”

What’s more, companies that process French fries use climate-controlled facilities that can handle large stockpiles of spuds. These sophisticated supply chain operations will likely keep the nation’s fast food chains supplied with fries even during lackluster harvests. “They can hold those potatoes once they’re processed for a pretty long period of time,” said Muir. So while the poor potato crop is certainly a headache for growers, experts say it shouldn’t prevent consumers from buying French fries. “I think the consumer will not see a period of time where there’s zero product in the marketplace,” said Kevin MacIsaac of the United Potato Growers of Canada.

Questions:

  1. Why do industry insiders claim that this year’s poor potato won’t have much of an affect on the French fry supply? 
  2. Why do you think some consumers and media outlets became so concerned about a potential French fry shortage?

Source: Jacey Fortin, “The French Fries Are Doing Just Fine,” The New York Times, December 4, 2019. Photo by Jim Larrison.

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