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Wait a minute. A potato shortage? In Idaho? Here’s why.

A burlap sack of russet potatoes.
Idaho's 2022 potato problem can be blamed on 2021's unusual weather.

Idaho has a potato shortage. If you haven't heard about it already or noticed fewer and fewer potatoes in your grocery store's produce section, you will soon.

So, what's the problem? The weather. Not this year’s weather, mind you. It’s the weather from over a year ago that’s to blame.

“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,” said Jamey Higham, president and CEO of the Idaho Potato Commission. “And so, our yields were significantly down last year.”

Now, keep that in mind when you learn that a previous year's potato crop cycle is supposed to last through the following August. And before the 2022 harvest comes into the pipeline (it’s just now beginning), consumers are facing the shortage from last year's crop.

”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.

With Idaho potatoes being a multi-billion-dollar industry, Higham has had to explain to more than a few people lately why last year’s crop was considerably lower than expectations, and the fact that the remains from the crop are trickling to stores in Idaho and beyond.

“As the fresh market goes, the grocery stores – your Albertsons, Walmart, WinCo, that stuff – it is not just Idaho that's having high prices right now. It's the other states as well.”

And as for the higher prices, Higham says they could remain higher for a while longer.

“As we get down to the end, there are very strong prices out there right now and potatoes are still supply-and-demand. And when the supply is lower, the prices go up and it will probably stay that way,” said Higham. “I don't anticipate these prices staying high long term. And once harvest gets under way, it'll get back down into a better spot. But I do expect prices to be strong all year this year.”

The good news is that this year's harvest is about to begin.

“The harvest is starting in Idaho this week,” said Higham. “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. It'll get better every week, but by after Labor Day, I feel like we'll be shipping a pretty good amount of potatoes.”

But it is still rather bizarre to be in Idaho of all places, and there’s a shortage of potatoes.

“It's been a while since we've been this short and the prices of business strong. But it's one of those things. Mother Nature can be kind of nasty when she when she wants to be to farmers.”

But it's worth repeating: The harvest is on beginning this week, and those potatoes, we're told, should start coming to stores sooner than later.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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