Northwest US potato growers take a heavy hit on their contracts

Northwest potato growers are not happy about their current situation. The three massive agribusiness companies that make much of the world’s frozen fries, hashbrowns and other products are going to pay the Northwest farmers less this year.

Dale Lathim, with the Potato Growers of Washington, negotiates the potato contracts for the growers in the Columbia Basin of Washington and Oregon. quoted Lathim as saying: “Growers don’t have a lot of margin to give up. And so to have a 7% swing [with contracts going down 3% and farmers’ costs going up 4%] is the biggest hit that the processing industry has asked growers to take on in decades.”

Lathim added that the contracts have been negotiated so late in the spring that growers can’t easily switch to other crops. Growers have likely already fumigated, fertilized and in some cases planted much of their ground while preparing to grow potatoes.

“There are so many other crops you could be growing this year,” Lathim says. “Some farmers would have maybe liked to go other ways with their acres.”

It costs about $5,000 an acre to grow spuds in the Columbia Basin. Growers hope to make about 15% return.

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