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Last Year’s Heatwave Brought a Potato Shortage to This Year’s Idaho

Neil lives in Canada and writes about society and politics.
Published: August 15, 2022
Idaho's 2022 potato shortage is the fruit of 2021's record heat dome-caused droughts.
Thousands of pounds of potatoes await sorting and shipping at Arnold Farms on March 24, 2022 in Felt, Idaho. The state, which is the largest producer of potatoes in America, is facing a shortage of the key commodity wrought by the effects of last year’s unprecedented heat wave. (Image: Natalie Behring/Getty Images)

The consequences of massive ecosphere disaster, such as prolonged droughts and high temperatures caused by curious heat domes, on the food supply are finally rearing their heads at U.S. grocers.

Idaho, of all places, is suffering from a potato shortage, according to Aug. 9 reporting by Boise State Public Radio (BSPR). The outlet quoted President of the Idaho Potato Commission, Jamey Higham, as pointing to 2021’s record setting heat waves as the causation.

Higham said, “I’m not sure if you remember last June, but we had some just unbelievably hot temperatures here in Idaho. It did a number on our potato crop…And so, our yields were significantly down last year.”

June of 2021 reporting by BSPR noted that the state had set a new record of 100 degrees, eclipsing the previous record of 97 degrees.

Senior Meteorologist Bill Wojcik told the outlet that there was more at stake than just hot weather, “What’s different about this one is it’s so early in the season…So, this is more of a heads up.”

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“This is going to be like the middle of summer, but it’s early June — so just do what you would normally do in the middle of the summer,” he added.

During the interview, Wojcik gave the euphemism “strong, high pressure ridge that I mentioned coming through and contributing to the heat” to describe the chronic phenomenon of high pressure heat domes plaguing the western North American weather pattern for the last several years.

BSPR explained that normally, one year’s potato harvest is supposed to last its locale until the following August.

But because 2021’s production was impacted by prolonged heat and drought, “There is not a gap. There are just less potatoes being shipped right now than there normally are this time of year because of the shorter supply that we started the season with,” said Higham.

Higham also noted the high prices being charged for the staple, not only in the Idaho region, but in surrounding areas as well, pointing out to readers that even though its potatoes, there is still an issue of supply and demand.

While the good news is that the 2022 harvest is starting this week, Higham said, there’s still a long way to go, “But it’s not like you’re starting and the pipeline is full. It’s going to take several weeks for us to ramp up.” 

Industry website Potato Grower explained in a July 26 report that although stocks in Idaho, Washington, and Oregon were all “extremely limited,” the pending Idaho harvest should be sufficient enough to tender “no supply gaps.”

The outlet also noted in a July 17 article that the Idaho bounty is forecasted to be “way up in 2022 compared with 2021.”

“While conditions this year are drier than normal, most of the state faced severe drought conditions last year, which, coupled with a brutal early season heat wave, resulted in yields for almost every crop grown in the state declining significantly,” Potato Grower explained.

“But this year looks to be a very different story because of the improved water situation. Although water supplies will be tight this year, the situation is not expected to be nearly as bad as it was last year,” they added.

On June 29, website Potato Pro revealed, however, that the true situation is not all roses.

Sales Manager of Pleasant Valley Potato Inc., Ryan Wahlen, told the outlet, “The current crop is also about two weeks behind across the state…It went into the ground on time. But it’s just been a very cool spring and the potatoes haven’t had a chance to get the heat units that they need to grow.”

Potato Pro added, “The new crop will also be smaller. The United Potato Growers of Idaho acreage count last season was 314,000 acres and Wahlen says this year, reports are that the acreage count for 2022 will be 289,000 acres, a drop of 25,000 acres.”

But the ultimate cost of goods to the consumer is not limited to just the supply-and-demand economics of farming.

In a June 15 article, industry website Spudman explained that not only had packaging ballooned 36 percent over the past 24 months, but paraphrased Idaho Grower Shippers Association (IGSA) President Shawn Boyle as pointing out, “It’s likely that 36% increase is greater than the total increase over the previous 20 years combined.”

The IGSA also itemized several other cost overruns plaguing the industry, “The cost of labor went up 28%, the cost of repairs rose 17%, the cost of chemicals increased 48% and the cost of scooping and hauling potatoes from storage rose 31%.”