With the hospitality industry closed and events cancelled or open with fewer seats, Maine potato farmers are feeling the pressure from the coronavirus pandemic. Many farmers are trying to sell the larger potatoes they have in stock to retail stores like Hannaford. Hannaford has seen success with the Maine product in its 183 stores throughout New England.
“We have bought 500,000 pounds more than we have normally purchased this time of year,” Kim Kuusela, the Local Merchandising Specialist for Hannaford, said. The grocery store chain has bought 500,000 more pounds of potatoes compared to its usual order this time of year. “It’s definitely the driver of local product that is moving for a produce lift in sales.”
But many farmers are not able to repackage for retail sales. U.S. Sen. Angus King sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, urging him to help the Maine potato industry.
“It’s not so easy to say, ‘oh, what we don’t sell to McDonald’s we are going to sell to Hannaford’… it’s a much more complex problem than that,” King has stated. “We need help, and the reason is that 40 percent of the main potato crop goes into processing, goes into mostly french fries, which mostly go to restaurants and that market has just died as you can tell… and it’s cut the demand for the product this year and also for the product next year.”
King got a response from the USDA, acknowledging his efforts on behalf of potato farmers in Maine. The agency says it will take into consideration his suggestions in the final rule making of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program Act.