McCain Foods potato plant

McCain’s potato-processing plant in Othello, Wash.

McCain Foods USA Inc. on May 1 announced plans to invest $300 million in its Othello, Wash., potato processing facility.

The project will significantly expand McCain’s North American production capacity, adding a battered and conventional french fry processing line, 170,000 square feet of building space and about 180 new jobs, the company said in a news release.

The investment also will bring environmental efficiencies, reducing the facility’s carbon footprint and “underlining McCain’s commitment to sustainability,” the company said.

Production capacity at the site will double, spokeswoman Andrea Davis said.

The expanded capacity will require about 11,000 additional acres of potatoes, sourced from growers in the region, McCain said. It follows a similar high-capacity expansion in Burley, Idaho, to service U.S. and global markets.

Construction is expected to start this month and conclude in early 2021.

Davis said the company in 2016 reviewed all of its North American sites. Following the Burley, Idaho, expansion, McCain selected Othello to further U.S. capacity expansion “due to its proximity to quality potatoes and availability of a skilled workforce,” she said.

“We are excited about McCain expanding their footprint in Washington state, and it is a great place to do it,” said state Potato Commission Executive Director Chris Voigt. Excellent yields and quality, and access to ports are among reasons.

About 70% of the state’s potatoes are exported. Demand in the Pacific Rim for frozen potato products has been growing at 6-7% a year, he said, and processors have turned down some international business due to a lack of available supply. Domestic demand is also growing.

McCain’s expansion in Othello “is going to be a great opportunity for our potato growers,” Voigt said.

But producing the necessary additional acres poses a challenge, he said. Annual acreage in the state totals 165,000 to 170,000, and land is lacking for expansion.

Voigt said potential solutions include boosting already strong potato yields through soil management and cropping system strategies, getting more irrigation infrastructure to dry land — possibly with help from the state legislature — and growing processing-suited potatoes on some acres now devoted to the fresh market.

“I want to be able to work with McCain and all of the other frozen potato processors collaboratively on how we can take potato production to the next level,” he said. “The demand for food is only going to get stronger and stronger as we go forward, so we in the potato community and ag in Washington state need to figure out how we can meet that demand.”

Idaho Potato Commission President and CEO Frank Muir said he’s certain McCain’s Othello expansion, likely in the works for some time, “is seen as necessary given the continued demand growth in Asia for frozen potato products.”

He said McCain recently finished expanding its plant in Idaho, “for which we are clearly grateful. Certainly we are hoping for even further expansion or additional plants in Idaho.”

A recent University of Idaho study found the state ideal for the next processing plant for reasons including lowest cost, readily available acreage and water, ideal weather conditions, state and local governments supportive of agriculture and the state’s world-famous potato brand. Those factors remain valid, Muir said.

“We continue to be hopeful for future announcements of additional processing coming to Idaho,” he said.

Based in Canada, McCain Foods Ltd. is the world’s largest manufacturer of frozen potato specialties. {span}It has 21,000{/span}{span} employees working in {/span}52 plants globally and{span} annual sales of {/span}$9.5{span} billion (CDN).{/span}

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