N.B. farmers working overtime to donate potatoes before they go bad
SAINT JOHN, N.B. -- Farmers in New Brunswick say millions of pounds of potatoes will likely rot in storage bins because of a dramatic downturn in the demand for spuds around the world linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Usually, some food items are in short supply at some Saint John food banks, but that rule does not apply to potatoes.
"We know there's a lot of potatoes out there," said John Buchanan of the Saint John Community Food Basket. "We're offered them every day. We're told anecdotally that there's 100,000 10-pound bags available to food banks."
They're available because much of last year's crop of potatoes is still in storage with no buyers in sight.
"It's an astronomical number," said Matt Hemphill of Potatoes New Brunswick. "We have about 50 million pounds of potatoes sitting in storage right now."
When restaurants closed because of the pandemic, the demand for french fries and processed potatoes collapsed.
As for this year's crop, seven million pounds of seed potatoes have not been planted and are also going bad.
"Those potatoes are starting to sprout, and are of very little value because a lot of those aren't refrigerated at all," said Hemphill. "They should be in the ground by now."
The surplus is not just an issue for New Brunswick potato farmers, it's an issue for farmers around the world.
In other parts of the world, farmers have come up with some unique ways of dealing with it.
In some parts of the United States, farmers have organized huge potato giveaways, filling up the trunks of consumers, rather than see the spuds rot in storage.
Some of the surplus is now sitting at the Salvation Army Fairview Citadel Division and Wednesday, 50,000 pounds will be distributed to those in need in the Halifax area.
"We've donated more than 20 million pounds across the country," said Hemphill. "So the food banks are more than full. We've done absolutely everything we can."
At the Saint John Community Food Basket, Buchanan says "we take as many as we can give out."
Potato farmers are waiting for the federal government to announce a rescue package for the industry, although consumer demand may be the only thing that can rescue the spuds now in storage.