Idaho potato crop returns to average volumes

Idaho has bounced back to a more normal potato crop this season from its bumper crop last year.

Last season, Idaho had more potatoes available for the fresh market than any other year in its history, said Ryan Wahlen, sales manager for Pleasant Valley Potato Inc., Aberdeen, Idaho.

The United Potato Growers of Idaho reported that planted acreage statewide is down nearly 15,000 acres, from 322,629 in 2016 to 307,776 in 2017.

Total fresh potato production in Idaho last season was 38.2 million cwt., according to the group. This season, it’s estimating production between 31 million and 32.5 million cwt. — a potential decrease of nearly 19%.

Additionally, Idaho potato growers have experienced harvest delays due to rain and cold temperatures. Wahlen said the delays haven’t translated into quality concerns.

“We expect that, as harvest finishes, shippers will realize how much lower yields were this season compared to last season and will adjust their pricing to reflect their reduced inventory,” he said. “The 15,000-acre decrease in potato acreage coupled with the lower yields we’ve experienced should translate to better grower returns this year.”

Wahlen added that demand has been strong early in the season and he hasn’t seen a decrease in movement despite higher pricing.

Ralph Schwartz, vice president of marketing, sales and innovation at Idaho Falls, Idaho-based Potandon Produce LLC, agreed that cold weather and rains have delayed the company’s harvest.

Overall, he said acreage for Potandon will be the same this year as last season.

“Yields are down this year, with a smaller set on the potatoes, but this still won’t hurt the overall size profile availability,” he said. “There are plenty of bigger, early season norkotah potatoes.”

 

Weather

As for the recent harvest of burbanks, Schwartz said the cold in September and early October has hurt the bulking up of potatoes.

Early October temperatures have dropped into the 30s and even upper 20s some nights, which Schwartz said will also limit harvest time and potentially cause extra bruising as digging machines cut through cold ground.

“Because the season started late, people are digging even in the cold to stay on schedule, as the harvest season typically ends Oct. 15,” Schwartz said. “Normally, we are 10% to 20% further along at this point in the season.”

Schwartz said the market for Idaho potatoes is higher than usual for this time of year.

“There’s heavy demand for 80s, 90s and 100s,” Schwartz said.

This season at Wilcox Fresh, Rexburg, Idaho, acreage and yields are also down due to the delayed start of the harvest. However, the company is close to a five-year average on yield and Derek Peterson, vice president of sales and marketing for the company, said he is pleased with both yield and quality this season.

“Mother Nature blessed us with pretty good weather in late August and early September, so we had good bulking of the potatoes at the end,” he said.

 

More variety

Kevin Stanger, president of Wada Farms Marketing Group, Idaho Falls, Idaho, said this season the company has transitioned more russet potato ground to colored potato and organic potato ground where possible.

“We should have about 9,000 to 9,500 acres this season with all our different varieties,” he said. “We are down maybe 3% to 5% this year in acreage and it appears that we could be off slightly on yields.”

Stanger said he’s hoping to see better overall quality in Idaho than last season.

“So far, we’re optimistic that’s what we’ll find,” he said. “Also, with acreage down in Idaho and slightly lower yields, the feeling out here is that we should see a stronger market than we’ve had over the past few years.”

“So far, we’ve had a drop in the market that we see every harvest as everyone is running full throttle,” Stanger said. “As soon as everything gets into storage, I think you’ll see the market level out and possibly firm up a bit.”

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