Apples, potatoes key to post-coronavirus recovery

Our state is blessed with some of the most creative people and businesses in the world. Many of their innovations are making key differences during this COVID-19 pandemic and as our devastated economy recovers, there will be greater creative opportunities.

Take potatoes and apples as examples.

Our state’s potato farmers and processors have been hit hard by pandemic-forced closures of restaurants, colleges and schools. Potato consumption has dropped significantly.

Chris Voigt, president of the Washington Potato Commission recently told “we’ve lost about 32,000 acres in cuts for the crop that we would harvest this fall, plus, we’ve got 3 billion pounds in storage (from 2019 harvest) and probably 1 billion that’s not going to get processed and we’re going to have to find a home for it.”

Three large processors — McCain, Lamb Weston and Simplot — have cut back the acreage contracted with farmers. So far, the cuts range from 14 to 50 percent. However, with surviving eateries forced to subsist on “take out” orders, there are new possibilities for crisper French fries.

“Home-delivered fast food is a booming global business, but when it comes to French fries, there’s a hitch,” NW News Network’s Anna King reported last July. They often get soggy on the ride during food delivery service.

Lamb Weston researchers in the Tri-Cities developed a special starchy batter in which potatoes are dipped before deep frying. Its exact ingredients are trade secrets. Test batches showed battered fries were still crunchy 30 minutes later even at room temperature.

The “new normal” in a post-COVID-19 environment is likely to be an acceleration in home food deliveries and take-out orders. French fries can be packaged in a new container which lets enough steam escape and keeps them crispy while preventing them from getting cold.

On the apple side, last fall’s introduction of the Cosmic Crisp was a big success. There are 12 million trees planted which last year yielded 465,000 boxes.

Kathryn Grandy, the brand’s lead marketing director, told London’s Telegraph last fall: “Normally, when a new apple is introduced to the market, there might be 2,000 boxes, and it might take 10 years to hit a million boxes.”

Cosmic Crisp was developed in Washington specifically for our state’s climate and growing conditions. It is a cross between a Honey Crisp and Enterprise — both developed in America’s midwest. Washington State University researchers took the disease resistant Enterprise and combined it with the Honey Crisp, known for its crispness, juicy sweetness, and hint of tartness, to create the Cosmic Crisp.

The best news is Washington apple growers have exclusive rights to the Cosmic Crisp for 10 years. That’s only fitting since our state’s orchardists paid researchers at Washington State University to develop it over the last 20 years. Apple growers need a license to buy the trees and pay a royalty on sales of the fruit.

Washington is a major agricultural state. Our state’s 39,000 farms cover more than 15 million acres and our state’s farmers and ranchers produces some 300 commercial crops and livestock products valued at $8 billion.

Food processing adds another $12 billion to our economy and is the state’s second largest manufacturing industry. About one-third of Washington’s agricultural commodities are exported with about 75 percent of the commodities going to Asia.

Boeing has transformed aviation. Microsoft made the personal computer a household necessity. Starbucks enlivened a cup of coffee making the “latte” a worldwide sensation; and Costco and Amazon have redefined shopping.

They were started by innovative Washingtonians in the Seattle metro area. Now, rural Washington innovations can help accelerate our COVID-19 recovery and create new jobs and products.

— Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at