Summer of the spud: Virginia potato prices more than double

Red potatoes. (Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services)

It’s the Summer of the Potato in Virginia, where ideal growing conditions at home and poor ones elsewhere have conspired to produce a bumper crop for farmers that is fetching unusually high prices on the market.

“We had timely rains during planting and growing season, but it turned hot and dry just before harvest,” said Elaine Lidholm, director of communications for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. “That’s basically the recipe for happy potatoes.”

July is peak time for Virginia’s potato harvest, more than 90 percent of which came from the Eastern Shore in 2017. But the past few summers have been unusually tough for the crop: the most recent Annual Potato and Vegetable Review found that 2018 had been “one of the most challenging years in memory” for potato growing, marked by a cool spring that delayed planting, excessive rainfall and poorly-timed intense dry spells. Nevertheless, production amounted to about $17 million in Virginia in 2018.

This year, weather has been bad for the potato elsewhere, which Lidholm said has created “sales opportunities” for Virginia farmers.

Prices for the commonwealth’s potatoes have spiked, with some types selling for 15 percent more than last year’s prices and others as much as 120 percent more.

If 2019 is anything like 2018, just under half of the state’s potatoes will go toward “chipstock,” in a continuation of Virginians’ long love affair with the potato chip. That dangerous liaison dates back to at least 1824, when Mary Randolph included a recipe for the snack in her Virginia House-wife cookbook.