Eating fries can help Canada’s potato farmers during pandemic

By Mark Neufeld and Kelsey Patterson

WINNIPEG (CITYNEWS) – Do you want fries with that? Canadian potato farmers are hoping you say yes.

Canada’s potato industry is struggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The demand for potatoes has plummeted with the closure of restaurants across the country.

Now potato farmers are asking for help – they want you to eat more French fries.

“In Canada, I would estimate probably about 65 per cent of our potatoes end up being in a French fry product,” said Kevin MacIsaac, general manager of the United Potato Growers of Canada. “Everybody’s been asking consumers to purchase as many fries as they can when they get out.”

MacIsaac says fresh potato sales at grocery stores are up and potato chip sales are through the roof. That’s because people at home want to cook, and chips are a great comfort food.

But he says it’s the thousands of restaurants not making French fries that has put the potato industry in a tough situation.

MacIsaac estimates over 200 million pounds of potatoes are in limbo, waiting to be shipped to processors. But those processors aren’t accepting any more potatoes because freezers are already full.

The global market slowdown has not helped Canada’s potato industry either.

“We produce fries domestically, but really the growing market has been export to, particularly, Asian countries,” said MacIsaac. “And of course as we know China has been shut down.”

RELATED: Belgians urged to double down on fries, do national duty

It’s quite the turn of events from two months ago, when Canada was trying to import potatoes to cover a shortage. Now there’s a surplus that needs to move.

“On the fresh side, the potatoes in growers’ bins in their storages, there’s a shelf life on that and they will deteriorate and eventually rot,” said Dan Sawatzky, manager of the Keystone Potato Producers Association. “So certainly a huge impact on the economy, especially on the growers at the farms that I represent.”

Sawatzky says talks are underway to possibly sell potatoes from Canada’s Prairies to Prince Edward Island, where they would be processed and frozen. The plan would be to start recirculating those frozen spuds back into the market when COVID-19 health restrictions ease up.

In the meantime, Sawatzky says any extra French fries Canadians can eat is more than appreciated.

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