Q. With all this talk about buying local, I got to wondering where my potatoes come from. Since I am from back East I know Maine used to be the source I saw most often, but now it seems as if a lot of the bags in the store have a “Grown in Idaho” seal on them. When did Idaho start outselling Maine?
A. You asked a couple of interesting questions. First, while buying local when in season is important, it is also good to know that some parts of the country are ideal for growing certain types of food. If you only buy local and are from back East, do you really want to give up coffee, avocadoes, pineapple, oranges, and so on? There are reasons why a state like Idaho has become known for its great potatoes. The cost of land is reasonable and still available, climate, water, etc. all factor in. Idaho actually surpassed Maine’s potato production back in 1957. Much of the acreage in the East has been converted from small farms to rural housing or closer into the cities and subdivisions.
What a difference 100 years makes…in 1909 the leading state for potato production was New York with 438,000 acres, Michigan at 346,000 and then Pennsylvania with 305,000 and Wisconsin at 262,000. Maine produced a potato crop on 130,000 acres that year, behind Ohio at 182,000, Illinois at 164,000, Minnesota at 160,000 and Iowa at 145,000. Idaho only grew 25,000 of the 3,525,000 acres of potatoes or .7%. As far as total yield, New York was first, then Michigan and third was Maine. A preview of the volume to come from Idaho, they were second in Bushels per acre at 200, behind Maine at 225 Bushels per acre. The source for this interesting trivia is a book called The Potato by Eugene Grubb and WS Guilford which was published in 1912. Idaho now produces about 30-33% of the fall potato crop in the United States.
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