Moses Lake, WA 98837, USA

Othello on verge of becoming frozen potato capital of the world

By RACHAL PINKERTON
Staff Writer

OTHELLO — Othello is about to become the largest producer of frozen potatoes in the world.

McCain Foods broke ground in October of 2019 in Othello for a new line that will double the size of the operations, according to Dale Lathim, executive director for the Potato Growers of Washington and president of the Potato Marketing Association of North America. With the combined output of McCain post-expansion and Simplot, Othello will be producing approximately 1.3 billion pounds of frozen potato products per year.

The Columbia Basin, including Umatilla and Morrow counties in Oregon, as a whole is currently home to 13 frozen potato processing plants.

“Approximately 20 percent of frozen potato products are made here in the Basin,” Lathim said.

There are a variety of reasons that the Columbia Basin is the home to the large number of frozen potato processors.

“The Columbia Basin as a whole is the best place to grow potatoes,” Lathim said.

The basin produces high-quality potatoes with high yields. That is combined with the amount of irrigation water available, the low-cost of electricity and the closeness to West Coast ports.

“The combination of all these make the Columbia Basin an ideal place,” Lathim said. “We have more sellable pounds as opposed to other areas that don’t have consistent size and shape.”

Expenses associated with growing potatoes are on a per acre basis. As Washington produces more potatoes per acre, the prices for their potatoes becomes more competitive. According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Idaho harvested 315,000 acres of potatoes in 2018 while Washington harvested 160,000 acres. But the amount of potatoes that Idaho produced per acre was 180 cwt less than Washington.

In spite of the competition, Idaho and Washington have two different primary markets. Idaho primarily focuses on the fresh market, while Washington primarily does mostly frozen potato products.

Oregon only produced 45,000 acres of potatoes in 2018, but like Washington, Oregon’s yields per acre were high at 600 cwt. Oregon producers also turn most of their potatoes into frozen products.

“Their yield and quality are in line with Washington,” Lathim said.

With the expansion at the McCain Foods plant in Othello, 180 new jobs will be added to the 450 already at the plant.

“Othello is very strategic for us,” said Dale McCarthy, of McCain Foods, at the Oct. 15, 2019, groundbreaking for the new line.

McCarthy indicated the company may also continue to expand in Othello in the years to come. He said that Othello’s proximity to the West Coast shipping ports make it a crucial location.

The new line is forecast to open in 2021.

Rachal Pinkerton may be reached via email at rpinkerton@basinbusinessjournal.com.

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