As north Florida begins spring volume up to two weeks late, buyers can expect lower red potato supplies to keep demand high and prices above normal.

Late North Florida potato volume brings higher pricesA series of winter freezes and heavy spring rains damaged the crop and could cut yields by as much as 50% on the front end of the red potato deal, said Adam Lytch, operations manager for Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. Inc.

L&M began packing red potatoes from its Palatka, Fla., operation May 8, about two weeks later than last season, Lytch said.

He said the weather affected all of L&M’s potatoes to some degree.

“Nationally and here in Florida, colored potatoes are tight,” Lytch said in mid-May. “Demand is very strong. Demand this year will certainly exceed supply.

“In the last couple of years, we’ve been pushed up against south and central Florida potatoes as well as the storage crop. But this year, even with the volume being down, we will have the most volume and will remain the most volume compared to California which is starting slow and Arizona whose volume is down.”

Mack Farms Inc. in Lake Wales, Fla., finished its south Florida harvesting May 14.

The north Florida growers Mack works with planned to begin harvesting light volume May 17.

Ken Wiles, general manager, said buyers should expect tight supplies through the summer.

He said west Texas and California planted fewer acres and said Minnesota and Wisconsin growers in early May were struggling to plant their reds.

“This is an atypical year,” Wiles said May 14. “The summer crop is going to come a little later. Harvesting is on the late side, yields will be on the low side and prices will be on the high side.”

Wiles said he expects Florida begin to increase volume in late May.

“Availability has been tight all through the season,” said Mike Hevener, president of the South Florida Potato Growers Exchange, Winter Park. “It has had its ups and downs but has been kind of a roller coaster ride out of south Florida into north Florida. This year had all the earmarks of being a great red deal out of north Florida, but we are shorter of supplies than we thought we’d be at this time of the year.”

Hevener, Lytch and Wiles all quoted higher than normal seasonal prices.

In mid-May, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported demand exceeding supply for north Florida potatoes.

The USDA reported these prices for Florida potatoes: round red U.S. One baled 5 10-pound film bags 50-pound sacks size A: $19.75-20.75; 50-pound cartons of As, $18.25-19.25, Bs, $22.25-22.45; creamers, ¾-1 5/8 inch, $30.75 with 50-pound sacks of As, 16.75-17.75; Bs, $20.75-22.75; tote bags of size As fetching $32.50-34.50.

That compares to last year in mid-May when the USDA reported round red U.S. One baled 5 10-pound film bags 50-pound sacks size A: $12.75-13.75; 50-pound cartons of As, $11.25-12.25, Bs, $14.25-16.25; 50-pound sacks of As, $9.75-10.75; Bs, $12.75-14.75; tote bags of about size As fetching $16.50-18.50.

North Florida production typically finishes in mid- to late June before North Carolina’s starts around that same time.