ABERDEEN, Idaho — Inflation is driving the cost of groceries to record highs, but it’s not the only reason food prices are going up. Many farmers are struggling to grow as much food as they used to.
There are environmental and supply chain factors making farming a tougher profession than ever before.
But, Idaho potato farmer Ladd Wahlen said he is not giving up on his family legacy.
“My great grandfather, Peter, he immigrated from Sweden,” said Wahlen. “He farmed, and then my grandfather farmed, my father farmed. I want to be able to honor his name and kind of carry on the farming legacy that he started.”
But in today’s climate, keeping that legacy alive gets harder.
“In the end, our margins are just so slim to none that by now, it's very hard to manage,” said Wahlen.
But Wahlen knew, with a little innovation, he could turn his potatoes into profit in a new way.
He and his wife cooked up a plan to manufacture potato chips on their Idaho farm. Their company Roots Potato Chips makes a handful of flavors of potato chips from fresh crops on their farm.
“A genuine Idaho potato chip is what we make,” said Wahlen.
But those chips are getting more expensive to make. Washington and Idaho—our nation’s top potato producers—are in a severe drought.
For the first time in 40 years, farmers from Maine had to ship potato seeds to Washington and Idaho to help farmers grow this year’s crop, but that still may not be enough.
“The drought situation is a severe situation. We're not really sure if we have sufficient water to finish a potato crop or even to plant some potato acres,” said Wahlen.
With less water, farmers can’t plant as many potatoes. ‘It could lead to shortages in potato supplies,” said Wahlen.
For the crops they can grow, the supply costs are increasing at record rates.
“Fertilizers, chemicals, fuel, all those things have skyrocketed, may be increased by 50%,” said Wahlen. “On the processing side for chips, same thing — certain key ingredients of seasonings have gone up 300%, which is insane.”
Economic experts say these factors combined could increase the price you pay for potatoes this year by 30%. For an average bag of chips, that’s an extra dollar and 60 cents.
“It's going to end up going to the consumer. I'm really hopeful that it is a short-term problem and hopefully we have a solution soon. But I don't see a solution coming in the near future,” said Wahlen.
Wahlen believes a solution could come with help from state or federal leaders to slow inflation.
“We just need to implement policies so we can avoid some of these situations that we're currently in with inflation.”
If relief doesn’t come, it won’t be just this family’s legacy on the line. Farmers across the country operating smaller family farm operations could vanish. “It's very important that we keep them going and keep them providing food for our nation and the world as a whole.”
If you’d like to learn more about Roots Potato Chips or the Wahlen Farm operation, click here.