The 2012-13 season promises big supplies of russets nationwide, a fact that San Luis Valley growers approach as a challenge and an opportunity.

David Tonso, a co-owner of Canon Potato Co., Center, Colo., said valley marketers will have to stay on their toes to move the 2012-13 crop.

“It’s going to be a difficult marketing season,” Tonso said. “There are going to be a lot of potatoes out there.”

The good news is that San Luis Valley and other regions are reporting good quality, Tonso said. That will make the industry’s job considerably easier.

“When you have a big pile, it’s nice to have good quality,” he said.

Trampas McCormick, manager of Worley & McCullough Inc., Monte Vista, Colo., is looking on the bright side heading into the 2012-13 season.

Yes, he says, there will likely be a lot of russets out there. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

“With the market the way it is, we see more opportunities,” McCormick said. “We’re looking to do some different things.”

Worley & McCullough and Wada Farms

One of those different things for Worley & McCullough this season is hooking up with spud giant Wada Farms Marketing Group LLC, Idaho Falls, Idaho, McCormick said.

Wada will handle sales and marketing for Worley & McCullough in the 2012-13 season.

“We’re excited with the partnership,” McCormick said. “Wada has long legs and long arms across the country. They can really get us out there.”

Heat and drought slowed demand for russets this summer, McCormick said. But despite that market atmosphere heading into summer and fall harvests and the expectation of big volumes nationwide, McCormick said russets could regain a position in the marketplace shippers used to take for granted.

“With the forecast of supplies, potatoes have a good chance to get out there in the supermarket and be a staple again, unlike the past few years,” he said.

With other food costs going up, potatoes could become the go-to food for more consumers looking for value, he said.

“Potatoes could get everybody through,” he said. “The price may not be what we want, but there are still opportunities to do well in the market.”

Besides, McCormick said, challenges keep growers and marketers sharp.

“A smooth sea never made a good sailor.”

Sharpened marketing skills

Jed Ellithorpe, a partner and marketing director for Center, Colo.-based Aspen Produce LLC, is trying hard to take a glass-is-half-full approach to the upcoming marketing season.

A good talking-to by his 92-year old grandfather, a former grower who was recovering from heart surgery, set Ellithorpe straight.

“I was explaining the markets to him, and I was somewhat pessimistic and he said, ‘You’re planning on it being that bad. It sounds like you need a different plan.’ The canary in the coal mine doesn’t bode well for markets, but a lot can happen.”

One advantage of having a big crop nationwide could be that shippers will be forced to sharpen their marketing skills, Ellithorpe said.

“If we have supplies, maybe we’ll do a better job of marketing and turn the demand side around,” he said. “We can’t do that unless we have the supplies to back it up.”

Nebraska and eastern Colorado were in production in August, adding to the San Luis Valley storage spuds already in the pipeline, of which there were more of than usual this year, but Bob
Noffsinger, a salesman for Center-based Skyline Potato Co., said he still expected a smooth transition from old to new crop this season.

That said, Skyline, like other valley grower-shippers, is taking a wait-and-see attitude toward 2012-13 demand.

“We know Idaho and Washington are up. We won’t know about the size until they get in,” he said. “It remains to be seen how big it is.”

Some valley growers began harvesting earlier than usual this season, but the Monte Vista Potato Grower Co-op Association, Monte Vista, still planned to open its shed at about the usual time, around Oct. 1, said Steve Tillman, manager.

With acreage up nationwide, Tillman said he can wait.

“I’m not in too big of a hurry to get into it — the market’s not strong enough,” he said.

Great promotional opportunities

Randy Shell, vice president of marketing and new business development for Bancroft, Wis.-based RPE Inc., said the big 2012-13 crop presents marketers with great opportunities to get consumers to eat more spuds.

“Supplies look to be plentiful for the season, with great supplies for promotions,” he said. “This will be a great year for retailers to promote russet potatoes in 10-pound and larger bags at very good prices. Overall, this should be a great year to increase potato consumption.”

In August, RPE inked a deal with Lynn McCullough and Jeffery McCullough, who own Monte Vista-based Spud Seller Inc., Spud Grower Farms LLC and Lynn McCullough Farms LLC.

The deal makes RPE the exclusive marketer for Spud Seller and Spud Grower Farms.