Bacterial infections threaten Pennsylvania’s potato chip supply

Potatoes, Lancaster County (Shutterstock)

By Patrick Berkery

January 22, 2024

Researchers have discovered new pathogens in Pennsylvania’s potato crops that if left unchecked, could jeopardize the supply used by the many chip manufacturers in the state.

The “Potato Chip Capital of the World” could be facing a potato problem.

Researchers at Penn State University say Pennsylvania could face a potato shortage because of crops damaged by bacterial infections.

The researchers collected potato stems from diseased crops at 26 potato fields throughout the state. They cautioned that if left unchecked, the pathogens can trigger crop loss, jeopardizing the potato supply used by the many potato chip manufacturers in Pennsylvania that produce nearly $60 million annually in sales.

The Penn State researchers began monitoring potato crops at Pennsylvania farms following significant crop losses suffered by potato farmers in Maine and New York, where harvests have been reduced by several pathogens in recent years.

“The losses in the Maine potato industry, as well as the importance of the potato industry here in Pennsylvania and to the potato chip industry, necessitated that we determine what pathogens may be causing these outbreaks,” Carolee Bull, a plant pathologist at Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, said in a statement.

Pennsylvania has more potato chip companies than any state, accounting for nearly one quarter of the nation’s chip supply. Much of the state’s potato chip production is concentrated in the south central Susquehanna Valley region, with companies like Bickel’s, Herr’s, Martin’s, and Utz

Central Pennsylvania is home to Middleswarth and Hartley’s. There’s also Dieffenbach’s in Berks County, Good’s in Adamstown. And Wise in Berwick.

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