The great potato giveaway in US to avoid wastage

Washington | Updated on May 08, 2020 Published on May 08, 2020

Farmers hand out spuds as bulk demand dries up amid Corona lockdown restrictions

When Tina Yates pulled her truck up to a mall in western Washington State on Thursday, workers waved her past hundreds of cars waiting to pick up free russet potatoes.

“You get a VIP pass!” Yates, a bus driver in her 50s, said the workers hollered, as she loaded 1,800 pounds (816 kg) of potatoes into her gray Chevy Silverado, bound for the Salvation Army, local food banks and homes throughout western Washington.

Virus impact

Giving away food is just one example of how people around the world are adjusting to the strain the coronavirus pandemic has put on supply chains, as restaurants, schools and hotels close. With unemployment soaring, demand from food banks is rising fast at the same time farmers have fewer outlets to sell their crops.

In Washington, the No 2 US potato growing State after Idaho, a billion pounds of russet potatoes, normally processed into french fries and hash browns, are sitting in warehouses that would typically be emptying ahead of the July harvest, the Washington State Potato Commision said.

Instead, the organisation is handing out the surplus for free in brown sacks, 100,000 pounds at a time.

“Everyone in Washington would have to eat about 500 pounds of potatoes from now until the 4th of July to clear out that pipeline,” said Brandy Tucker, the Commission's director of marketing.

Around 90 per cent of Washington potatoes are processed for food service, nearly half for international markets. Potato producers in Europe have also faced enormous surpluses.

The Commission is planning more than a dozen donation events by the end of May. But even giving away potatoes comes with the cost of washing, bagging and shipping.

Govt initiative

The US Department of Agriculture is attempting to chip away at the mountain of produce, unable to get to consumers. This week it said it would buy an additional $470 million in food, including $50 million in potatoes, to give to food banks.

Farmers such as Adam Weber, a third generation grower at Weber Farms in Quincy, Washington, say it is better to give away potatoes than dump them.

“If the price is well below what it costs to grow them, do you just sit on them for a while and hope things turn around? Or just go from $200 down to $30 (per tonne). That's how drastic the price has changed,” he said.

To lower acreage

Weber said he will plant 1,000 fewer acres on his 6,500-acre farm this year because of lower demand from processing companies. Some cancelled entire contracts, according to Tucker from the potato commission.

“They (potato growers) are going to be holding the bag,” said Weber.

Published on May 08, 2020

A letter from the Editor

Dear Readers,

The coronavirus crisis has changed the world completely in the last few months. All of us have been locked into our homes, economic activity has come to a near standstill. Everyone has been impacted.

Including your favourite business and financial newspaper. Our printing and distribution chains have been severely disrupted across the country, leaving readers without access to newspapers. Newspaper delivery agents have also been unable to service their customers because of multiple restrictions.

In these difficult times, we, at BusinessLine have been working continuously every day so that you are informed about all the developments – whether on the pandemic, on policy responses, or the impact on the world of business and finance. Our team has been working round the clock to keep track of developments so that you – the reader – gets accurate information and actionable insights so that you can protect your jobs, businesses, finances and investments.

We are trying our best to ensure the newspaper reaches your hands every day. We have also ensured that even if your paper is not delivered, you can access BusinessLine in the e-paper format – just as it appears in print. Our website and apps too, are updated every minute, so that you can access the information you want anywhere, anytime.

But all this comes at a heavy cost. As you are aware, the lockdowns have wiped out almost all our entire revenue stream. Sustaining our quality journalism has become extremely challenging. That we have managed so far is thanks to your support. I thank all our subscribers – print and digital – for your support.

I appeal to all or readers to help us navigate these challenging times and help sustain one of the truly independent and credible voices in the world of Indian journalism. Doing so is easy. You can help us enormously simply by subscribing to our digital or e-paper editions. We offer several affordable subscription plans for our website, which includes Portfolio, our investment advisory section that offers rich investment advice from our highly qualified, in-house Research Bureau, the only such team in the Indian newspaper industry.

A little help from you can make a huge difference to the cause of quality journalism!

Support Quality Journalism
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor
You have read 1 out of 3 free articles for this week. For full access, please subscribe and get unlimited access to all sections.