Rep. Dye says potato giveaway shows generosity of farmers; highlights dire situation of potato industry from COVID-19 restrictions

Potato growers are giving away nearly 20 tons of potatoes in Ritzville Wednesday morning after coronavirus restrictions have slowed or stopped production of potato products across Eastern Washington. Additional loads will be distributed over the next two to three weeks to local charities, food banks, churches and individuals in Washington state.

Rep. Mary Dye, R-Pomeroy, who serves as a member of the Washington State Food Policy Forum, says growers are bearing the full cost of producing and preparing the products for donation. Dye says it shows the incredible generosity of potato farmers as the pandemic restrictions nearly cripple the industry. She also says it highlights a serious problem that could put many growers out of business.

“The 'Stay Home, Stay Safe' order has dealt an enormous blow to potato farmers because 90 percent of all Eastern Washington frozen potato products are used in restaurants and other food service establishments. When those places closed, processing plants curtailed or closed their operations. Now there are more than three billion pounds of potatoes in storage and at least one billion without a home,” said Dye, who serves on the House Rural Development, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

“Cold storage is limited because the supply of potato products has backed up. Freezers are full. There's a lack of demand and all of these unprocessed potatoes have a short shelf life. So our growers are making an enormous sacrifice to give these potatoes away and help feed our communities at the same time,” added Dye.

The 9th District lawmaker says the potato market saturation is only part of the problem.

“Growers were on track to plant 170 thousand acres of potatoes that were destined for frozen potato processors in Washington and Oregon. Many have already planted the crop, or they had prepared the ground for planting and had taken delivery of seed potatoes. Many had invested nearly $2,300 per acre before planting their first potato. And then the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent restrictions hit,” noted Dye. “Now Washington growers are looking at about $73 million in losses, and it is so late in the season that many will not be able to find alternative crops to grow that could recover their losses.”

The Washington State Potato Commission says many growers may not survive this loss without intervention by the United States Department of Agriculture.

“I am very concerned about food shortages at the end of the year as the result of this pandemic-induced economic slowdown. Without markets, growers cannot plant,” added Dye. “The delay may cause unintentional food shortages next winter because markets signal what needs to be planted now. When markets shut down, it creates a bottleneck at the farm gate. What we do now matters to the future of our national food security.”

The potato giveaway begins at 9 a.m., Wednesday, April 29 at next to Harvest Foods, 610 W. First Avenue in Ritzville.

“Our growers are trying to remain positive, using this giveaway as a pay-it-forward gesture of optimism that they believe there are better days ahead,” Dye concluded.


Washington State House Republican Communications