COLORADO SPRINGS — Jerry Wright, chief executive officer of the United Potato Growers of America, has a message to potato growers going into the 2012-13 season: Proceed with caution.

Growers in Idaho, Washington and Oregon report they plan to plant almost 30,000 more acres of potatoes than last year – adding about 12 million cwt. in production, said Wright, speaking at the U.S. Potato Board’s annual meeting March 16. Overall, next year’s production will increase at least an estimated 25 million cwt. in North America.

Processing crop potatoes influencing fresh marketFresh market production estimates for the 2012-13 season show an increase of 5 million cwt. That means processors will have an increase of at least 20 million cwt., and it’s unrealistic to count on them needing all those potatoes, even with increased demand.

“That’s a pretty strong dose of reality,” said Wright, whose group is projecting a return to fresh-market prices seen in 2009 (if weather and yields are typical), when growers were losing an average of $2-$3 a cwt.

“Honestly and realistically, growers are looking at that kind of market,” he said.

Fresh table stock markets will be helped some by more demand in processed potatoes, similar to this year. Spurred by demand for frozen French fries and dehydrated potato products overseas, overall (fresh and processed) potato stocks as of March 10 were 2 million cwt. lower than the same date in 2011, he said.

That means the “hockey stick” on sales charts, when sales pick up as shippers clear inventories in preparation for the next season, will come early this year.

That will bring better markets as table stock supplies are depleted in late spring and summer.

“It does bode well as russet potato varieties become less and less as we approach June/July,” he said. “You’ll see it make room for the red crop that has been backed up in part because of low prices and the glut of russet potatoes on the market.”

Florida, Virginia, the Carolinas and other summer deals will have good seasons, Wright said.

Despite the anticipated bump of at least 5 million cwt., 2012-13 table stock acreage is expected to be slightly lower than the current season. Weather, however, cut in production in eastern growing regions.

“But when you return most of those growing acres back to a trend-line yield, production will be up and it will be up substantially in all those areas,” Wright said.