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Idaho potato industry set to receive federal help

For weeks Idaho potato operations have hoped for help, now millions of federal dollars are set to help the industry.

OAKLEY, Idaho — For weeks, Idaho's potato growers have done their best to make ends meet.

In Idaho and beyond, the food industry has mostly slowed to a crawl, forcing some farmers to get creative regarding what to do with tons of potatoes about to go bad.

“It’s been crazy the last couple of weeks, but it’s starting to calm down a bit,” said Ryan Cranney, CEO of Cranney Farms.

The pile of free pandemic potatoes at Cranney Farms in Oakley has finally disappeared. Those Idaho potatoes went far beyond the Gem State.

RELATED: Idaho farmer who gave away potatoes is now helping a Kenyan family get into college

“Outfitters were wanting to load them on a military transport plane and take them to I think Puerto Rico, or something like that,” Cranney said.

If you told Cranney six months ago that his potatoes were being distributed in Puerto Rico, he says it would have been hard to believe.

“I would have thought you were crazy. It’s been a very interesting few weeks, but it’s been fun,” Cranney said.

It has also been a challenging time for Cranney, who says they were forced to cut back on how much they planted for the 2020 season.

“We are going to be about 20% down for the year from where we were last year,” said Cranney. “We know it’s going to be a pretty tight year for us.”

MORE: Idaho farm gave away potatoes for free so they wouldn't go to waste

A little good news though for the potato industry, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced this week that the federal government will make $470 million in food purchases to help farmers. That includes $50 million dollars for potatoes.

“It was really welcome news; I was super excited to hear that. I think it is going to really help tighten the market up. It’s not going to be super, but it’s going to be OK, I think,” Cranney said.

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Cranney adds that with restaurants starting to open up, they are hoping to see some regular business again.

“Things are starting to turn around a little bit and shape up. I’ve heard there are some big orders coming from some of the quick service restaurants, fast food places. Big orders coming through for french fries, so that’s been really encouraging,” Cranney said.

Looking ahead though, Cranney says it’s tough to say what will happen beyond the USDA potato buy.

RELATED: With schools closed, more Idaho students start farm jobs

“It’s kind of a wait and see what happens kind of thing, but I’m definitely optimistic with this and a few other things that will help us get through this,” Cranney said.

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