Then Cold Came For The Spuds

Not just wheat taking a hit. Not just corn & soy coming up very short on yield and harvest percents. Not just a pandemic taking out the world’s largest hog producer (China) and spreading toward the rest of the planet. But then the cold came for the spuds.

Potatoes were also planted late due to water conditions, and now the early arrival of severe cold has damaged the crop in the ground that has not yet been harvested.

Worse, the damage extends to the “seed potato” crop (that isn’t actually a seed but potatoes grown to be used as planting stock next year) so there will be a shortage of potatoes in 2020 just due to lack of planting stock.

So far, mostly the Reds and Yellows have been hit (so prices can be twice that of russets), but this will get worse as the overall shortage works through the system. At present, some of the damaged spuds can still be run through “processing” into things like boxed dried potatoes. After this harvest is done, it is unlikely that next year those processors will get so many cheap potatoes. (So consider stocking some instant mashed or some boxed “au gratin” like potato products for later this year / into 2020; if you are fond of potatoes).

30 minutes from Yanasa Ama Ranch:

Then a “Good Ol’ Boy” takes a tour of the local market in the middle of the USA.

“Deep South Bama with Mr. Tom” for 20 minutes:

He’s a bit slow talking, in that usual southern way, but it grows on you once you are settled on a porch or pool side with a tall one ;-) After the market tour, he settles down at the computer to do some background data on how the current crop will supply excess to processing and short the fresh potato market. “10 percent to as high as 40 percent frost damage”. At about the 10 minute mark: “A lot less seed potatoes put in the ground” for 2020.

Do I think this is the end of French Fries as we know them? Nope. I do think there will be pressure on the big chain fast food places to either shrink / short the size of the fries or jack up the price. I did notice that, at Costco, when I bought a #15 bag of “bakers” they were about 1/2 the size each compared with 6 months ago and the skins looked a little more rough. This will get worse over the next 6 months to a year.

So if you like spuds, grab some now (bag or box) ’cause it will only get worse until the next crop year, or potentially the one after that depending on seed potato stocks and next year planting conditions.

I’m also figuring next spring will likely be a good time to try growing some of my own potatoes again. I’ve wanted to try them in tubs. I have done well with them “in the ground” but eventually some little white bugs got into them. I think in a tub with potting soil I can control that better. As I’m fond of the fru-fru purple and red ones that cost a lot anyway, I expect I can pick up a small bag of them at Whole Foods or Trader Joes and use them as seed. (Yeah, I know, not certified virus free etc etc but I’ve done it before with good success).

But those big old fat Russet Bakers are not going to be as available or cheap for a year or two… or three.

A couple of related articles for folks who would rather read what Tom reads than watch / listen:

Then a couple more recent:

Disaster Aid Approved for N.D. Producers
Published online: Nov 11, 2019 Articles Jenny Schlecht

Source: AgWeek
U.S. secretary of agriculture Sonny Perdue has approved North Dakota’s request for a secretarial disaster designation for 47 counties related to late-season rainfall and a disastrous October snowstorm.

The declaration came on Friday, Nov. 8, the same day that Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., hosted Bill Northey, USDA’s under secretary for farm production and conservation, to hear from producers at a roundtable and see the impacts of flooding and the early blizzard during a field tour in the Red River Valley.

Northey said programs enabled by the disaster declaration won’t make producers whole given the difficult situation, but the effort is to “do as much as we can to get you through to next year.”

“This is unprecedented,” he said. “Most of our programs are not written for times like these. They’re written for normal times. And so they don’t sometimes work just the way they should when we have such abnormalities. We’re not supposed to be harvesting soybeans in November. It’s just not supposed to happen. We’re not supposed to have to wonder about leaving sugar beets until spring and what it does to next year’s crop. You’re not supposed to have saturated soils when it freezes.”

Red River Valley Could See Millions in Potato Losses
Published online: Oct 31, 2019 Articles, Potato Harvesting Ann Bailey

Source: Grand Forks Herald
Successive nights of sub-freezing temperatures have caused an estimated $45 million in damage to the Red River Valley red and yellow potato crops.

Wet conditions during the past month delayed the potato harvest, leaving about half of the red and yellow crops, which are grown for the fresh market, vulnerable to frost damage, said Ted Kreis, Northern Plains Potato Growers Association spokesman.
“We’ve got 1,100 acres we may not get out,” said Hoverson, noting the last time he left potatoes in the field was in 1983.

“It’s been tough. We don’t get many days to harvest and it rains and snows and freezes …. If they even have a little frost damage, they’ll get frost rot. They won’t store and quality goes down,” he said.
The ripple effect will be felt across the region, Hoverson said. Not only potatoes, but sugar beets, soybeans, wheat, corn, canola, edible beans and sunflowers have been damaged as a result of the delayed harvest.

“Every crop is at peril. It’s really bad for the region,” Hoverson said.

Early Freezes Take Bite out of Harvest
Published online: Nov 04, 2019 Articles, Potato Harvesting

Source: Gro Intelligence
Recent freezing temperatures in Idaho set back the top potato-producing state’s harvest, but it could be weeks before the extent of the damage to the crop is known.
Frost damage can affect potatoes in a few different ways. Extended cold can lower pulp temperatures and dramatically increase the risk of shatter and blackspot bruising. Potatoes harmed by frost have a greater likelihood of developing soft rot. Frozen soil can prevent harvest altogether.

On the ground crop condition surveys, published weekly by NASS, reported widespread losses for this year’s crop. Some fields were left unharvested because frozen potatoes were too costly to dig up. In other cases, the quality of harvested potatoes was degraded so much that the potatoes had to be discarded.

Oh, and I’m going to dig my dehydrator out of the closet and try some spuds on it…

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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22 Responses to Then Cold Came For The Spuds

  1. Nancy & John Hultquist says:

    the “seed potato” crop (that isn’t actually a seed but potatoes grown to be used as planting stock next year)

    That earned a grin. I suppose the number of people that know such things becomes fewer each year.
    I grew a few red potatoes this year.
    I grew about 200 pounds of onions – special ones from:

    I plant the “long day” types; then give many away.
    No money saved; at this point that hasn’t been the reason.

    Costco has 5 pound (?) bags of small colored potatoes.
    I should try that and see if the blooms are different colors.
    Not a Whole Foods or Trader Joes for 100 miles.

    Most of the crops in Washington State were large and in good shape. October was cold and friend’s wine grapes a bit late.
    Official report here:
    NWS Spokane blog

    “Wed., OCT 30 More records – this time coldest October”

  2. p.g.sharrow says:

    Potatoes like cool and damp, NOT cold and wet, and freezing will ruin them. We once grew them commercially as well as for certified seed potatoes. There are a lot of potatoes grown in the winter/early spring in southern climes. but the bulk is grown in colder areas as summer crops that only require 90 days growing season….pg

  3. cdquarles says:

    There are warm/wet varieties. I’ve seen them grown in the garden at my grandparent’s house. Still, point made.
    It is darned cold here. Temps dropped from the mid 60s to the mid 30s and expected to drop into the low to mid 20s tonight (all temps F). 70/45 is typical sliding into the 60/40 range then bottoming out at 55/35, in January. This is weather typical for some 6 to 8 weeks from now.
    We do not need too cold of a winter.

  4. Graeme No.3 says:

    The original method in Ireland was to raise a bed of soil and plant the potatoes in that. Kept the potatoes above the water from the frequent rain esp. in the SW. The soil came from (shallow) ditches alongside the bed, and they helped drainage.
    Further soil might be added as the plants grew taller.
    As the average small farmer might have only an acre to live on, good productivity was essential.
    Choice of the wrong variety and disease were fatal.

    Re bin method: I’ve grown a crop in 40 Litre plastic bin with drainage holes near the bottom, with hydroponic solution and perlite in place of soil. Tended to collect (wind) soil on the top which formed mud then clay.

  5. Larry Ledwick says:

    This guy is trying to increase genetic diversity in potatoes, and gives some simple instructions on how he does his growing and seed savings.



    How to extract the seeds


    Potato genetics video


    Torp Tomaten video channel

    Just remove the square brackets from the links to view the videos.

  6. Larry Ledwick says:

    Across the country, a cold blast of polar air is plunging deep into the southern U.S., impacting hundreds of millions of people. Tonight, Colorado Springs will be warmer than both Atlanta, GA and Dallas, TX.

  7. Graeme No.3 says:

    Larry Ledwick:
    Potatoes are the result of cross breeding about 70 species of Solanum (many toxic). If you are keen for something new try Ulluco. Unavailable in Australia but (according to some greengrocers from Peru) preferred by them, and more likely to be available in North Mexico ( I believe that’s the new name for the State formerly known as California).
    “These unique vegetables have beautiful colours, from pale or bright yellow to orange, pink, and red. And they come in many different sizes, from tiny (like grapes), to big (larger than baking potatoes). There is no need to peel them, just scrub them well under running water and cut in fine sticks or rounds to use in any recipe. Keep at room temperature until ready to use.”
    They are supposedly related to potatoes but I don’t know anymore.

  8. E.M.Smith says:

    @Graeme No.3:

    Ulluco is not a potato relative. Potato leaves are toxic (low grade mostly) while ulluco has edible leaves:

    Ulluco is a tuber crop native to the Andes, where it was developed alongside the similar tuber crops potato, oca, and mashua.
    This crop is challenging to grow in the Pacific Northwest and very difficult in the rest of the country.

    Ulluco tubers are small, reaching about one to two inches in diameter on average.
    Yields can reach four pounds per plant in favorable climates, but are usually much lower.
    The tubers are vividly colored in yellow, orange, red/purple, green, or white, sometimes with spots.
    The tubers have a much firmer texture than potatoes and taste like a combination of beet and potato.
    The leaves of ulluco are also edible and can be used like spinach.
    Ulluco thrives under very narrow climate conditions and grows poorly where summer temperatures exceed 75 degrees.
    Tubers are produced during the short days of fall and are not ready for harvest until mid-November.

    The crop is propagated by planting tubers. True seeds are rare and used only for breeding.
    Disease is a significant problem for ulluco and many varieties are infected with viruses.

    Going to be hard to find places in the USA that stay mild into fall while not going over 75 F.

    FWIW, all potatoes derive from one common ancestor, so while there’s 1000 types, just one domesticated species.

    The potato is a root vegetable, a starchy tuber of the plant Solanum tuberosum, and the plant itself, a perennial in the family Solanaceae, native to the Americas.

    Wild potato species can be found throughout the Americas, from the United States to southern Chile. The potato was originally believed to have been domesticated by indigenous peoples of the Americas independently in multiple locations, but later genetic testing of the wide variety of cultivars and wild species traced a single origin for potatoes. In the area of present-day southern Peru and extreme northwestern Bolivia, from a species in the Solanum brevicaule complex, potatoes were domesticated approximately 7,000–10,000 years ago. In the Andes region of South America, where the species is indigenous, some close relatives of the potato are cultivated.

    So many wild species, but just the one domestication event, then generations of selection into 1000 varieties. And yes, I’m harvesting nits over a new genetic screening result.

  9. Larry Ledwick says:

    Looks like the New York Times is pushing nonsense again on the Climate.

    New video by Tony Heller just released a few minutes ago.

  10. Larry Ledwick says:

    @llanfar your link above is broken page not reachable.
    I assume the guy is using a heat pump to warm a green house but can’t even get to the page and a search for that specific title also comes up empty.

    Might have been taken down.

  11. E.M.Smith says:

    I fixed the link. Missing https at the front… Some browsers hide that in the display so cut paste of text fails.

    It is a greenhouse using air pipe conduits about 6 inch a few feet deep to pick up 52 F heat from ground source heat.

  12. Larry Ledwick says:

  13. Larry Ledwick says:

    Oops that is a year old article for Jan 21 2019 but still interesting historical info.

    This is one of the current posts

  14. H.R. says:

    For those of us in the U.S. who just have to have our potatoes, it’s stock up cheap time.

    For some odd reason the makers of dehydrated instant potatoes were having a sale this past week and I believe it will continue into this coming week. I shop 3 different stores, and all of them had Idahoan brand and their house brands of boxed and foil-packed instant potatoes selling for $1.00 per package. Prepared, they make between 1.5 to 2 pounds of potatoes; scalloped, au gratin, or mashed. They have some nice flavors such as 4-cheese and sour cream and chives as well as just plain old potatoes.

    These puppies are l-o-o-o-n-g dated, so if potatoes come up short and are pricey, you’ll still have some to go with that Sunday roast :o)

    I prefer baked potatoes. I’ve mentioned before that for some odd reason, I can have 1/2 of a baked potato now and then – not often – and it doesn’t seem to affect my blood glucose readings.

    Anyhow, I find that the instant mashed potatoes are the best for making shepherd’s pie. It is easier to control the moisture content so you get the perfect potato crust on top of a shepherd’s pie every time.

    I bought 20 packages, which is about a 2-year supply for our household, given that I can only have potatoes here and there and not anywhere near on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. I’ll still have the real deal baked potato now and then while they are still cheap, and now I have back-up if they go sky high.

    You might want to check it out and see if they are selling them at stock-up prices in your area.

  15. Larry Ledwick says:

    These have best use by date of May 2020. If kept dry, will keep for many years beyond that. Mashed potato flakes are like rice they keep essentially for ever if kept in a moisture proof container.

    I use them to make “synthetic” baked potatoes.

    In a screw top Ziplock food storage container.

    3 oz cup of flakes
    3 oz cup of water
    Put in microwave until steaming hot.
    Let sit for a minute.
    Dump out onto plate (turn container over and smack on plate, potatoes come out in a single hocky puck sized disk) and hand pack the hot potatoes into a firm mound
    Pat of butter and salt and pepper to taste.

  16. E.M.Smith says:


    Potatoes that were frost damaged don’t survive as “fresh” potatoes, but can be processed into dry. So right now there’s an excess of spuds going to the processors and not as many to bags in stores; ergo the processors need to move inventory… (And I’m happy to help them ;-)

    Potatoes are mostly starch, so turn to glucose, that the liver turns to glycogen and that gets soaked up by EVERY cell of the body. Sugar (sucrose or fructose) has a fructose component that ONLY gets processed by the liver (and turned into fat… so Non Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease on the rise from HF Corn Syrup). That pathway also diddles you insulin levels that then causes blood sugar excursions…

    Moral of Story: Avoid the sugars. Starch in moderation.

    BTW, on my near zero carbs diet I’m within 5 pounds of “goal” and started to add back in some starches. Spuds and ramen cups in particular. About 1 or 2 a day slows the loss rate to just a tiny bit…

  17. E.M.Smith says:

    I’ve never had dried potatoes go bad. Then again, I’ve never had them around for more than a couple of years… Somehow they always have an accident involving water, butter and salt ;-)

    In an air tight container ( I use 1/2 gallon glass canning jars ) dried foods just don’t get oxygen damage. A vacuum seal helps (and I’ve got the kit for that for my vacuum plastic sealer…) but isn’t necessary for under 2 years.

    Also those that ship in foil lined pouches are effectively sealed already, so no need to repackage.

  18. H.R. says:

    @E.M. – Ah, that explains the minimal effect of potatoes on my glucose readings.

    I do a bit of potato now and then and 100% whole wheat crackers or bread here and there, not even daily. I suppose I should try oats, again just here and there maybe for breakfast once a week.

    Per your observation on cold damaged potatoes, that would definitely explain the surge in supply of dehydrated spuds. Stock up while it’s cheap!

  19. E.M.Smith says:

    I got a big package of dried “hash browns” at COSTCO (a bunch of small milk carton like packages in a flat), along with about a dozen boxes of “Scalloped Potatoes” a while back. Probably ought to get some more…

    Oats have a unique version of what is Gluten in wheat. It’s “special” in that it does good things for most people. Then it has a lot of soluble fiber that’s also helpful. Just keep the sugar low and it ought to work OK. Oh, and if you crave some sweet, go to the local Beer & Wine Making Store and you can buy bags of glucose. Then you can add a bit of sweet to things with no fructose involved ;-)

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