No, We're Not Going to Run Out of French Fries
Word of a potato shortage in the Midwest and Canada only tells part of the story.
So far this week, everyone on the internet has either been angry that Billie Eilish doesn't know who Van Halen is, confused about that Peloton commercial, or terrified that we're all going to run out of French fries sometime in the next year.
According to a report from Bloomberg, colder-and-wetter-than-average weather and heavy frosts have damaged potato crops in Idaho, Minnesota, and North Dakota, and in the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Manitoba. That, combined with an ever-increasing demand for "Yes I'd like fries with that" has led to worries that Americans will be gnashing our teeth as we all try to endure a French fry shortage. (And is there honestly a worse combination of words than "French fry shortage?")
"French fry demand has just been outstanding lately, and so supplies can't meet the demand," Travis Blacker, an industry-relations director with the Idaho Potato Commission, told the outlet. But does that mean that we're all going to be, like, desperately screaming into the drive-thru speakers, begging for one fry, just one fry? Probably not.
Yes, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has predicted that U.S. potato output could drop 6.1 percent—falling to its lowest level since 2010. "In Idaho, growers reported losses due to freezing temperatures in late September and early October," the agency said. "Several farmers left potatoes in the ground to avoid the cost of digging them up."
And yes, Idaho's potato production is down by five percent this year, but by the time the cold, wet weather hit the state, farmers had already harvested around 85 percent of their crops. And in Washington, which produces almost a quarter (24 percent) of the country's potatoes, farmers were able to harvest between 90 percent to 95 percent of the potatoes they'd been contracted to produce this year—and their production actually increased compared to 2018.
"We're headed into the Christmas period now, and we're confident we can meet the consumer needs both on the fresh side in retail stores and in [...] restaurants,'' Frank Muir, the president and CEO of the Idaho Potato Commission, told USA Today. "We're not going to (look up) halfway through the year and there's no French fries anymore. That's not going to happen."
What might happen, though, is that potatoes that would've been used in other potato products, or that could've been bagged up and sold in supermarkets could be shipped to processors to be sliced into French fries. And there is the possibility that the price of potatoes might increase next year as well.
Chris Voigt, executive director of the Washington Potato Commission, was more pragmatic with his spud forecast, but it still doesn't sound quite as terrifying as the Internet has made it out to be. "The supply is going to be tight, but anyone is going to be able to walk into a McDonald's or a fast-food restaurant and there is going to be enough fries," he told The Spokesman-Review. “They have about a 35- to 40-day supply in freezers. But there will be some spot shortages."
In the meantime, we might order a side of fries with lunch, just to be safe.