New problems will compromise crop storage as planet heats up

About 25% of the nation's potato chips get their start in Michigan, where reliably cool air during September harvest and late spring has been ideal for crop storage. That's a big reason why the state produces more chipping potatoes than any other.

Brian Sackett's family has farmed potatoes that are made into chips for generations now. Their products are found on grocery shelves in much of the eastern US.

But with temperatures climbing, Sackett had to buy several small refrigeration units for his sprawling warehouses. Last year, he paid $125,000 for a bigger one. It's expensive to operate, but beats having his potatoes rot.

“Our good, fresh, cool air is getting less all the time, it seems like,” he said on a recent morning as a front-end loader scooped up piles of plump, light-brown potatoes that would be packed into a tractor trailer for shipment to chip factories.

The situation shows a little-noticed hazard that climate change is posing for agriculture in much of the world. Once harvested, crops not immediately consumed or processed are stored — sometimes for months. The warming climate is making that job harder and costlier.

The window for unrefrigerated storage is also narrowing for apples in the Northwest and Northeast, peanuts in the Southeast, lettuce in the Southwest and tomatoes in the Ohio valley, according to follow-up research published last year by plant physiology scientist Courtney Leisner at Auburn University.

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