Potato costs exceed prices, farmers say

IDAHO FALLS – Leaders of potato grower industry groups say a stellar growing season has been offset by prices for Idaho potatoes that have dropped to less than half of what it cost farmers to grow this year’s crop.

The cost per hundredweight of potatoes is ranging from $3 to $3.50, but the expense of planting the tuber was more than $7 per hundredweight, according to the Potato Growers of Idaho. “The situation is very severe,” the group’s executive director, Keith Esplin, told the Post Register.

Growers are also losing money because people are not eating as many potatoes as they have in the past, said Carl Taylor, chairman of United Potato Growers of Idaho.

With higher potato yields compared to last season, and less of a demand from consumers, prices have naturally gone down, said Taylor, whose cooperative counts about 80 percent of eastern and southern Idaho farmers among its members. “Growers are losing a tremendous amount of money every day,” Taylor told the Post Register. “There really aren’t many people going to Sizzler or Outback and buying a baked potato and a T-bone.”

Idaho farmers planted more acres of potatoes than last season, resulting in a 12 percent increase in production, a U.S. Department of Agriculture study says. Most growers borrow money to plant each year’s crop. As growers start to determine how to pay for next year’s crop amid a loss in potato sales, those who can’t repay the money they borrowed to plant this year will be left with some tough decisions, said Boyd Foster, who farms in the Ririe and Osgood regions. “It becomes extremely difficult to get financing to go forward when your projections show a loss,” Foster said.

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