COLOMA, WI (SPECTRUM NEWS) — The coronavirus pandemic is forcing the potato industry into an oversupply of the market.

Schools, restaurants and hotels closing leaves a gap in demand for products like fries and hash browns. The gap has lead to contract cuts for potatoes meant for processing, which is likely to then flush the market for grocery stores and chips.

“It's just such a massive shut down of that sector of our industry that there will be an oversupply issue in the fall,” Tamas Houlihan, the executive director of the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Grower Association.

In Wisconsin those processing contracts have been cut about 25 percent for the 2020 crop.

“That's a huge cut, normally that wouldn't vary more than three percent from year to year,” said Andy Diercks, part owner of Coloma Farms.

Diercks is the fourth generation to own the farm. They grow about 800 acres of potatoes in addition to other crops like corn and soybeans.

In Wisconsin, farmers were mostly told about the contract cuts before they planted their spuds.

“Many of us were able to adapt, make those changes, those plants didn't get planted,” Diercks said.

However, preparations for the 2020 season starts in 2019. Most farmers had made preparations, and ordered seeds for their fields.

“They'll take their first loss on the seed potatoes and just deal with 25 percent less total income,” Houlihan said.

Wisconsin is the third largest potato producing state in the country — in a virtual tie with Oregon. The contract cuts are worse in potato-producing giant states Idaho and Washington.

“All those french fry potatoes in Idaho and Washington that are planted without a contract can transition into the fresh market, and if that happens it doesn't really take very much to hugely impact the price in the fresh market,” Diercks said.

Diercks said that would mean huge price drops for all potatoes.

“The problem is going to come even worse in the fall when all these potatoes that are grown for the food service market are backed up in storage,” Houlihan said.

Houlihan said the industry is now struggling to find places for the rest of the 2019 crop. In Wisconsin the WPVGA is working with food banks to get the potatoes to people who need food.

Houlihan said the biggest need for the industry would be for the service sector to return to normal, though he says the WPVGA doesn't disagree with government regulations. He says the best thing that people could do is buy from restaurants.

“We would encourage them to patronize restaurants as much as possible, I mean those folks are in dire straights,” Houlihan said.

A wet spring and fall in 2019 made for a tough year for farmers in Wisconsin. Farmers were hoping things would turn around in 2020. Potato farmers are bracing for losses this year if things don't change for restaurants and the coronavirus.

“It's pretty scary what might happen if we don't get the quick serve restaurants opened up,” Diercks said.