I have seen a few ads on TV recently that have shown farmers arguing over which state grows the best potatoes. The obvious omission from this argument is my home state of Idaho, which has had the reputation of growing the best potatoes for as long as I remember. These ads are done by the Lay’s company, and I happen to have access to some inside knowledge about all this best state for potato business that I would like to share.
This access comes from a man named Karl Richie. He was in my graduating class from high school. He went on to get some Phd thing in agricultural engineering from the University of Illinois, and he now manages potato farms for Lay’s in southern Michigan. He also happens to be in my current ward. I have asked him about why Idaho has advantages over other states when it comes to growing potatoes, and this is basically what he told me: It is the climate, stupid. Allow me to explain.
When the temperature during the daytime gets above 80 degrees F, the potato plant basically shuts down. If this happens in long stretches during the summer, you will have smaller, less healthy plants and potatoes. Southern Idaho’s high elevation and northern latitude results in summer temperature highs that are rarely over 80 degrees, which lead to large, healthy potatoes.
When the temperature during the night dips below 55 degrees F, the sugars from the leaves of the plant begin flowing down toward the potatoes themselves. When this happens frequently during the summer, you will have very sweet, good-tasting potatoes. Again, southern Idaho’s relatively cool summer nights lead to good tasting spuds.
Potatoes need lots of water, but they do not like what often comes with it. Potatoes are very susceptible to molds, fungus, and other plant diseases. And growing in an area with lots of natural rainfall provide all of this. Southern Idaho has very little rainfall during the summer. It is almost desert like. So there is very little mold and fungus around naturally. Also, because of the dry climate of southern Idaho, the farmers are committed to aggressive irrigation. Thus, the potatoes get the best of both worlds – plenty of water, but almost no mold or fungus problems.
So, with all due respect, you can forget all these claims about the best potatoes being grown in Florida, or Texas, or California, or even Michigan. Idaho has all of the fundamental climate advantages in its favor. The other states can only hope for a cool summer, and fight plant diseases like mad. The only reason Lay’s pushes for potatoes being grown in other states is for distribution advantages – which I have a hard time believing will offset the other disadvantages. So no matter what other states may claim, when it comes to potatoes, Idaho still rules.