Climate change is making it harder to grow the potatoes traditionally used for French fries
But new varieties are helping farmers adapt to warmer, drier conditions.
Do you want fries with that? Potatoes are a very popular side dish.
The most common potato variety is the Russet Burbank, which is mainly grown in the Pacific Northwest. But as the climate there gets warmer and drier, growing these tubers may become more difficult.
Richard Novy is with the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Idaho. He says to water their crops, many farmers in his state depend on mountain snowpack, which melts slowly throughout the growing season.
“And so if we have less snowfall up in the mountains or earlier melting of that snowpack, that can impact our irrigation going into the future,” he says.
Hot, dry weather can reduce farmers’ yields. And it can make the potatoes grow unattractive bumps.
Novy says another risk posed by rising temperatures is that more of the potatoes’ starch content will convert to sugar.
“Then when you fry that tuber,” he says, “you’ll get a very dark potato chip or a dark french fry, so not desirable by most consumers.”
To help the industry adapt, Novy and other scientists have been developing new, more resilient potato varieties.
So even as the climate changes, diners can continue to order fries with that.