Michigan is the nation’s largest grower of potatoes for chips — about one in four bags sold in the U.S. is made from Michigan potatoes. Can climate change jeopardize the state’s dominance? Maybe, a new study warns.
That’s because warming temperatures will require more ventilation and refrigeration — and thus higher energy bills — to store potatoes after harvesting and in the spring and early summer before processors need them to make chips.
“Climate change impacts that increase storage costs and reduce the profit margin for growers may render storage a less effective marketing strategy and contribute to seasonal shortages,” according to the study in the journal “Climatic Change.”
The study projected climate for the early, mid and late 21st century for two Michigan potato-growing areas: a northern area in Greenville, Montcalm County, and a southern area in Eau Claire, Berrien County.
Julie Winkler, a Michigan State University climatologist and lead author of the study, said the findings highlight a number of challenges confronting the industry.
For example, many growers store their potatoes only in insulated ventilated facilities, “but if a farmer needs air conditioning, that raises the cost,” she said.
Storage is important to growers’ bottom line because of fluctuating crop prices, the study said. And it’s important to consumers, processors and exporters because of the need for a sustained supply of chip potatoes.
Another climate change consequence is that potato farming might expand northward, while some southern areas would become less profitable, Winkler said. And she said there are also implications for breeders who need to develop varieties adapted to warmer temperatures.