GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The price of potatoes may soon be on the rise, thanks to a disease killing large amounts of the crop in Michigan.
Michigan is one of the nation’s highest producers of potatoes used in potato chips. The state also produces almost two billion pounds of potatoes per year.
“Michigan plays a real key role in potato production in the U.S.,” Chris Long, potato extension specialist at Michigan State University, said.
A disease called potato early die complex could potentially impact around a quarter to a third of the state’s potato crop.
“It feeds on potato roots. It infects them,” Long said. “The fungi get in the roots, and they grow and they clog up the vascular system of the potato roots, thus causing an early death.”
The disease is not new, but Long said it has gotten worse recently due to environmental factors, the increased demand for food sustainability and the shift from widespread farming to commercial.
“We have really moved from a culture of an agrarian society, where we had 300,000 acres of potatoes in Michigan at one time, to where we’re at a point that, what, maybe not even 1% of our U.S. population actually is involved in commercial agriculture,” Long said.
The disease, scientifically known as verticillium dahliae, is not harmful to humans if eaten. But the more potatoes it kills, the more it could impact prices.
“Reduced yield and quality will then have less of food available and drive consumer prices higher,” Long said.
Long, along with a team from MSU, received a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to research the potato early die complex. They are working with the Michigan Potato Industry Commission to research and find a way to prevent the disease.
“We just really need to understand that and work to maintain a healthy balance in our soils, that not only potatoes but other commodities that we’re known for producing in Michigan, all happens in a healthy and safe way,” Long said.