- When COVID-19 closed down restaurants and hotels, potatoes headed toward food service had nowhere to go.
- It had a chain effect down to processors and growers, trapping 1.5 billion pounds of potatoes in the supply chain.
- While farmers across Idaho and Montana have given away millions of potatoes, they’ve also been forced to destroy millions more.
- Business Insider visited a potato seed farm in Sheridan, Montana, to understand the emotional and financial impact this has had on farmers Peggy and Bill Buyan.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Following is a transcript of the video.
Narrator: These potatoes aren’t gonna end up on your dinner table. Their final destination is this hole. We’re in the small town of Sheridan, Montana, on a potato farm. Normally this time of year, Bill and Peggy would be sending their potatoes to be planted. Instead, they’re throwing away 700 tons.
Bill Buyan: The potatoes have been awful good to us for a lot of years, but this year it just really turned sour.
Narrator: And the same thing is happening across the Northwest.
Bill: I mean, it was just unprecedented. It’s the supply chain from the growers to the supermarket that got interrupted.
Zak Miller: More than half of our market shut down by government mandate.
Narrator: Now farmers across Idaho and Montana are stuck with mountains of potatoes. So why did this all happen?
We visited Buyan Ranch, where Peggy and Bill have been growing potato seed for 59 years. Normally, potato production across the Northwest looks like this. It starts with a seed grower like Buyan, where farmers grow a variety of seed strains.
Zak: Virtually all the potatoes grown started out from a certified seed. That’s a fairly rigorous process that avoids disease, imperfections.
Narrator: Buyan grows three different disease-free seed strains: Umatilla, Clearwater, and Russet Burbank potatoes. Each potato variety goes to a specific grower in either the fresh or processed segment. In the fresh segment…
Zak: You’re actually seeing the potato in its true form.
Narrator: That’s foods like a raw potato at a grocery store or au gratin potatoes at your favorite restaurant.
Zak: The other side of that is – we call it our process segment. You don’t actually see the potato; you see the byproduct or the end result of that.
Narrator: That’s the bag of potato chips, the french fries at McDonald’s, or the precut fries in the frozen section.
Zak: If you’re a fresh-product grower, you’ll plant a different variety, or a different genetic line of potatoes. If you’re a process grower, you’ll grow a different product line. Just, some fry better, they have a better color to them. Others grow better.
Narrator: Now back to the farm. Potato growers get the seed from Buyan and start planting in March, then they