Hold the ketchup! We may be facing a French fry shortage – USA TODAY

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A cold snap may put a freeze on French fries as farmers deal with smaller potato crops this year.

From an extended rainy period in the Red River Valley of North Dakota, to an early frost in Idaho, weather negatively affected the harvesting of potatoes, reducing the expected haul in the U.S. by 6% as compared to 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

As of early November, only 73% of total crops had been harvested.

In Idaho, the state that grows 1/3 of all potatoes produced in the U.S., a freeze hit between Oct. 9 and 11th.

“You can only harvest potatoes once a year so you’ve got one shot at it,” says Frank Muir, president and CEO of the Idaho Potato Commission. “When you have a prolonged frost like that, it can be pretty devastating to our crop.”

French fries may be a little harder to find with a smaller potato crop expected.

However, the cold snap mostly struck the eastern part of the state. In Idaho’s western and southern regions, harvesting began in the summer and extended into early fall. That means by the start of October, 85% of the state’s crop had been picked and put in storage.

Still, among those that remained in the ground, as much as 30% were damaged, and “there were some fields that were probably a total loss,” Muir said. 

The demand for French fries has gone global, gaining popularity particularly in Asia. And bad weather has reportedly also affected potato crops in Canada.

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Some makers of frozen French fries who had been going elsewhere have reached out to Idaho farmers for some of their supplies, Muir says.

But ultimately, in the U.S. there will be an expected yield of about 13 billion spuds. Though that’s down 1 billion from 2018, that’s enough to fill Albertson’s Stadium, where the Boise State Broncos football team plays from end zone to end zone, in a pile a mile high, Muir says.

So don’t despair about your hash browns.

“We’re headed into the Christmas period now, and we’re confident we can meet the consumer needs both on the fresh side in retail stores and in … restaurants,” Muir says. “We’re not going to (look up) halfway through the year and there’s no French fries anymore. That’s not going to happen.”

Follow Charisse Jones on Twitter @charissejones

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