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US: Columbia Basin growers finish harvesting potato crop

Greg Juul and his business partner Troy Betz operate G2 Farming LLC in Hermiston, growing 1,200 ha of potatoes around the area. The vast majority of Oregon’s and Washington’s potato crop comes from the sun-baked Columbia Basin.

When the planting season began in March, Juul said growers felt confident about supply and demand. But then the coronavirus pandemic hit, throwing markets into chaos. Schools and restaurants were closed, creating an instant oversupply of potatoes. Lamb Weston, one of the largest processors of French fries in the world, began reducing contracts for potatoes with partner growers around the Northwest.

Suddenly, farms were sitting on a billion pounds of potatoes without a home. Juul watched as growers plowed under fields of young spuds, trying to minimize their losses. Fast-forward seven months, and the 2020 potato harvest is nearly finished with growers reporting solid yields and exceptional quality.

However, Juul told that it remains to be seen how quickly the markets can recover: “I don’t know if those cuts were deep enough,” Juul said. “We might get through the holidays, and depending on what happens — if the economy doesn’t turn around and consumption doesn’t start to rise again — there could definitely be red ink in the 2020 crop.”

Chris Voigt, executive director of the Washington State Potato Commission, raved about this year’s harvest following what he described as an almost perfect growing season. The only issue was timing, as the pandemic caused a backup of potatoes in the storage shed, which delayed harvest by as much as 35 days for some early varieties.

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