(March 17) With their potato storage halfway through the season, Idaho shippers are finding premium prices for cartons of larger russets, averaging $5 more for a 50-pound carton.

The disparity, fueled by a lack of larger sizes following scorching temperatures before harvest, has larger sizes priced about 2 ½ times higher than March 2003. At the same time, consumer bags of Idaho potatoes are bringing about half what they did last March.

“On the nonsize A potatoes which go into the 5- and 10-pound bags primarily for retail stores, we’re trading close to historical lows, at least than anything we’ve seen in the last five years,” said Tom Cooper, who heads the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Idaho Falls, Idaho, Fruit and Vegetable Market News Service office.

On March 15, the USDA reported 50-pound cartons of Idaho russet burbanks were $13 for 40-70s, $10-10.50 for 80s and 100s $5. Baled five 10-pound mesh bags were $2.50, compared to $4.50-5 at the same time last year.

San Luis Valley, Colo., shippers were seeing $2.50-3 for bags of russet norkotahs and $7.50-8 for cartons of 40-70s, while cartons of 90s were $5-6 on March 15.

Wisconsin f.o.b.s were $7.50-8.25 for 50-pound cartons of 50-70s, $6-6.75 for 80s, $4.50-5.50 for 90s and $4-4.50 for 100s. Red River Valley (Minn./N.D.) potatoes were priced at $4.25 for baled five 10-pound bags of round reds.

In northern California/southern Oregon, the Klamath Basin had 50-pound cartons of norkotahs at $10 for 40-70s, $7-9 for 80s and $7 for 90s.


The National Agriculture Statistics Service released their March storage numbers on March 15.

Overall, the U.S. had 166.69 million cwt. for the fresh and processing markets left in storage on March 1, which is 1% higher than at the same time last year. As a percentage of the overall crop, however, shippers had 41% remaining on March 1 the past two years.

Idaho shippers had 47% of its 123.2 million cwt. left in storage, compared to last year’s 46% at the same time, on a crop that produced 10 million cwt. more.

Cooper, referring to the higher carton prices, said that quality and the size profile has more of an effect on f.o.b.s than the storage numbers. Shippers in other parts of the country agree.


Russell Wysocki, sales manager for Russet Potato Exchange, Bancroft, Wis., said Wisconsin is seeing a better quality crop this year, with smoother skins and less storage losses.

The crop has more No. 1 potatoes and less of what packers call “boiling over the sides of the grader” — smaller and lower quality potatoes that don’t make the cut for cartons.

But Idaho, with its lock on the foodservice russet market, still drives the carton market, Wysocki said.

“From that standpoint, Wisconsin has a better crop this year to work with, but Idaho’s market on cartons by far is very good,” he said. “They have a smaller size profile than normal, but they also have a strong demand in foodservice due to the Idaho name.”

Wysocki said the agriculture statistics service report, while containing accurate information, can be misleading.

Although the potatoes are in storage and viable in March, storage losses always rise as the deal finishes because some potatoes won’t hold up to the end of the season, he said. This is particularly true of processing potato overages that aren’t put in the best storage facilities.

“All potatoes can’t last until July,” Wysocki said.

Chris Voigt, executive director of the Colorado Potato Administrative Committee, Monte Vista, said that although Colorado shippers had about 3 million cwt. less in storage on March 1 than in 2003, last year’s crop was larger than normal.

“The storage is holding up well and the size profile is great, with some bigger potatoes maybe than what’s coming out of the northwest,” Voigt said. “We’re pretty happy with what we have in storage.”