Matthew Weaver/Capital Press
The Washington potato industry contributes $7.42 billion to the state’s economy, a recent study from the Washington State Potato Commission finds.
The study, conducted for the commission by Washington State University’s IMPACT Center, also reports:
• The industry creates 35,860 jobs throughout the state.
• Every job directly created supports an additional 5.1 jobs in the state’s economy.
• The industry contributes $1.83 billion of labor income.
• For every dollar of raw potato production and processing, $2.40 is generated in the local economy.
The study examined the economic output from the state’s potato farming, frozen potato processing, fresh packed potatoes, dehydrated potato products and potato chip manufacturing sectors.
“I knew potatoes were a big thing in Washington State — we grow them big and they have a big economic impact,” said Chris Voigt, executive director of the commission.
But Voigt said the figures were higher than he expected.
“It really emphasizes the point that all of agriculture in Washington is big, a lot bigger than I think people normally think of,” he said.
Voigt attributed the high numbers to potato processing and export markets. Roughly 90 percent of the state crop is processed, and roughly 50 to 60 percent is exported, he said.
The study used figures from 2014, said Matt Harris, director of government affairs for the commission. The data collected occurred prior to the port slowdown. The commission estimates a loss of more than $50 million in frozen products from the four months.
A forthcoming study examines the total economic loss to the state as a result of the port labor issues, Harris said. He expects a figure of roughly $750 million.
“It’s shocking what that four-month period cost Washington state,” Harris said. “That’s something that has to be talked about.”
The number of jobs impacted by the potato industry grew from roughly 25,000 in the last study, conducted in roughly 2008, Harris said.
“There is a significant amount of revenue being earned on an annual basis from people directly and indirectly touching a potato,” Harris said.
Having the study will help when speaking with decision makers and legislators, Harris said.
“People like to see the positive impact that an ag group has in its local community,” he said. “We want to make sure people understand that we have to have the right business atmosphere for our farms to keep this economic model growing.”
Voigt said the commission used a draft of the figures during a recent visit to legislators in Olympia, and will take the study to a meeting in Washington, D.C.
“These numbers really reinforce that agriculture is important to the state, and we really have to be good stewards of agriculture, make sure it’s a good business environment for our farmers to operate,” he said. “Once we start turning the tide against farmers, we potentially could lose a lot of economic opportunities for the state.”
Potatoes are the fourth-largest crop in the state, behind apples, wheat and dairy. Roughly 300 potato growers plant more than 160,000 acres annually, harvesting 30 tons per acre on average. The state produces 20 percent of all U.S. potatoes, according to the commission.