With a cool, moist climate and deep, sandy and loamy soils, Michigan has always been a good place to grow potatoes, and the traditional crop is expanding.
The latest target may be the Northeastern Lower Peninsula, where suitable soil is available, according to Wayne Wood, the president of Michigan Farm Bureau. Some farmland there has lain dormant for years.
“We are opening them up because we have the potato industry growing in Michigan and the land’s soil is productive for potatoes.”
With the development of drought-tolerant technology in crops and Michigan’s fresh-water resources, we may see an expansion of potato acres in northeastern Michigan,” Wood said.
Ken Nye, the horticulture specialist at the Farm Bureau said, “These areas have the right soil, climate and water capabilities for potato production.”
Access to water for irrigation is critically important for potato growing, Nye said.
According to the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, Michigan ranks eighth nationally in potato production, with approximately 42,300 acres on 600 farms all over the state.
Montcalm County leads the way by a wide margin, with 25 farms raising more than 16,000 acres of potatoes, followed by St. Joseph, Kalkaska, Presque Isle, Monroe and Bay counties.
The most popular type is the round white potato, which is used fresh and for chips. Michigan also markets yellow or golden potatoes.
While Michigan potatoes are readily available in grocery stores and farmers’ markets, most end up as potato chips.
According to the Michigan Potato Industry Commission based in DeWitt, Michigan is the national leader in the growing of chipping potatoes. Brands include Better Made and Uncle Ray’s in Detroit, Downey’s in Waterford and Great Lakes Potato Chip Co. in Traverse City.
Wood said, “There are many things in the pipeline, A $5 million investment has already made by Better Made to expand and upgrade their existing manufacturing facility, and there may be another Michigan chip company expanding.
And Nye said, “We generally believe that if we could attract additional chip processors to Michigan, due to our quality, supply and improved business climate, we could achieve additional potato production opportunities.”
Nye said the potato industry is one example of how agriculture can help lead the way in providing jobs and economic growth in the state.
“It is very important that policymakers and business leaders see these opportunities and help create the ‘right’ business, employment, infrastructure and tax climate that will allow this growth to occur,” he said.