The $415 million-plus expansion project will increase capacity at the facility by about 40 percent and make it one of the largest frozen potato processing facilities in the world, according to Lamb Weston officials.
The expansion project is expected to result in about 12,000 additional acres of potatoes in Idaho, mainly in Power and Bingham counties, where most of the product for the facility is sourced.
The first leg of the three-phase project is complete and the other two legs are under way. Lamb Weston officials expect the entire project to be completed by next June or July.
Lamb Weston officials, potato farmers and spud industry leaders basically view the expansion project as a $415 million investment and belief in the future and strength of the Idaho potato industry.
“We continue to be confident about the long-term health and growth of the global french fry market,” Lamb Weston President and CEO Tom Werner said in a news release announcing the project.
Headquartered in Eagle, Idaho, Lamb Weston is one of the world’s largest frozen potato companies and has facilities in American Falls, Twin Falls and around the globe.
Idaho is the No. 1 potato-producing state in the nation and most of those spuds are grown close to American Falls.
Mark Wynn, vice president of tax for Lamb Weston, said access to a reliable supply of high-quality potatoes was a big reason the company chose to locate the expansion at its American Falls facility.
“Idaho’s a great state for us to operate in and Idaho has a business-friendly environment,” he said. “We wouldn’t have made that investment unless we had confidence in being able to operate there long-term.”
Travis Blacker, industry relations director for the Idaho Potato Commission, said the expansion is a great sign for the state’s famous potato industry.
“They’re really investing in the Idaho potato industry because of the value of the growers, the brand and all the potato research we do at the University of Idaho,” he said.
The facility, which was built in 1961, sources potatoes mostly from Power County, where American Falls is located, and neighboring Bingham County, the nation’s No. 1 spud-producing county.
Farmers in those areas are excited about the expansion project.
“It’s huge and it’s a great thing for the industry,” said American Falls potato farmer Klaren Koompin, who grows spuds for Lamb Weston.
When Koompin was 8 years old, he viewed the facility when it first opened in 1961.
“It’s been a boon to the area as well as all of southeast Idaho,” he said. “It’s pretty amazing to see how that facility has grown over the past (62) years. It’s over 10 times larger today capacity-wise than it was when it first opened.”
Besides benefitting potato growers, the expansion will also provide an economic boost to Power County. The expansion will result in Lamb Weston adding about 280 new positions at its American Falls facility.
Because of the expansion project, the facility in 2029 will account for more than 40 percent of the county’s total property tax base, Wynn said. It currently accounts for about 6 percent and that amount will move up steadily until 2029.
“I do like that Lamb Weston will be shouldering north of 40 percent of Power County’s property tax burden,” Power County Commissioner Delane Anderson said during a recent commission meeting. “In 2029, it will be like a celebration.”
The project was first announced in July 2021 and was expected to be finished this year but it was delayed by challenges related to COVID-19 and is now expected to be completed during the first half of 2024.
“We were planning to do the American Falls expansion project all in one shot but we ended up having to phase it because of COVID,” Wynn said.
The first phase of the project, which is complete, was increasing efficiency at the plant, including the addition of a new chop-and-formed line that compliments the facility’s french fry production capacity.
When Lamb Weston contracts with a grower to purchase potatoes, they buy all the potatoes that come out of that field. The small or odd-shaped ones that are not ideal for french fries are turned into potato products that are formed together, such as hash browns or tater puffs.
The American Falls facility had been long on those small potatoes and was essentially aggregating them together and selling them to another company that could use them.
With the new chopped-and-formed line, those small and odd-sized potatoes can now be used at the American Falls facility and complement its french fry production.
“It just made our plant more efficient,” Wynn said of this phase of the expansion. “Plus, there was a very high demand, and we were not meeting the demand, from customers for chopped and formed products.”
The second phase of the project, which is underway and is the main part of the expansion, is the addition of a new french fry line. That phase is expected to be up and running during the first half of 2024.
That phase will add about 1 million pounds per day of additional french fry capacity at the facility and will use spuds from the 2023 crop.
The third phase is the addition of a new 275,000-square-foot cold storage facility that will store about 50 million pounds of frozen french fries and is needed to support the volume of finished product that will come from the new fry line.
That phase of the project is also under way and expected to be completed about the same time as the new fry line is finished.