In a letter addressed to US Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, US potato industry representatives urge the Secretary to provide aid to the industry to help alleviate losses caused by the pandemic.
The letter reads: "Overall, the U.S. potato industry comprises approximately $4 billion in sales annually and supports thousands of direct and indirect jobs. Potatoes are the most widely produced specialty crop in the country, with substantial commercial production in Idaho, Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Michigan, Wisconsin, California, Maine, Montana, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, New York, Ohio, Florida, Minnesota, and Texas.
The U.S. potato industry is facing an unprecedented crisis related to the coronavirus pandemic. As we have discussed with the Department of Agriculture at length over the past three months, the threat to family farms in the potato industry due largely to the closure of the food service sector may last well into 2021 if aggressive actions are not taken. Specifically, over 1.5 billion lbs. of fresh potatoes-for-processing and potato products are trapped in the supply chain with no likely customers. This oversupply has impacted both the 2019 and 2020 crop for U.S. family farms that grow potatoes. Some of these farms will have no ability to sell their 2019 or 2020 crop.
As a result of this oversupply, potato processing companies have invoked “Act of God” clauses in contracts with growers that either reduce or completely invalidate those agreements for the current 2019 crop. Additionally, those same growers have been advised that they will not have contracts for the upcoming 2020 crop year at nearly the levels of previous years. Therefore, the growers’ sole customer has advised them that their crop will either be reduced or entirely unnecessary for two successive years. For some growers, this notification came after all or a substantial portion of their crop had already been planted.
In turn, seed potato growers have had all or a portion of their crop returned without payment as their customers respond to the aforementioned reductions.
Over 70% of the potato industry has been directly impacted by the government-mandated shutdown due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19). Significant negative impacts have been suffered during the period of January 15-April 15 in the sub-sector of the potato industry comprising seed potatoes (10%) and the sub-sector of the industry serving the food service industry (60%).
These growers urgently need a direct payment program that provides meaningful relief as a result of this crisis."