Potatoes solid, but onions struggle - The Packer

Potatoes solid, but onions struggle

11/24/2013 01:44:00 PM
Cynthia David

Courtesy Folson FarmsBryan Folson, marketing manager at Folson Farms, East Grand Forks, Minn., inspects freshly dug red potatoes on a field truck. While Idaho and Colorado are seeing excellent crops this year, the plains of North Dakota and Minnesota struggled with wet, cold spring weather that delayed planting in the Red River Valley.Potato growers are smiling, but onion growers are lamenting their fate in much of the country as the fall harvest winds down.

Idaho’s 315,000 acres yielded more than 12.5 billion pounds of potatoes, about average for the past five years, said Frank Muir, president of the Idaho Potato Commission in Eagle.

“We’ll have a wide selection of sizes of outstanding quality to meet all customer needs,” Muir said.

In Colorado, the San Luis Valley avoided the devastating rains that hit the Front Range as the rest of the country watched on TV.

“Our growing conditions early on were less than ideal,” said John Pope, vice president sales and marketing for Monte Vista, Colo.-based MountainKing Potatoes. “But the result was exceptional. We ended up with probably the best crop we’ve had in many years in terms of appearance, size and overall quality.”

“It’s going to be a very good year to market potatoes,” he said.

The news is less rosy from the northern plains of North Dakota and Minnesota, the country’s third-largest growing region and home of Red River Valley reds.

Ted Kreis, marketing and communications director for East Grand Forks, Minn.-based Northern Plains Potato Growers, said growers’ woes began in the spring when wet, cold weather delayed planting more than a month.

The silver lining, said Kreis, is that the quality of this year’s crop is much better than last year’s, when growers were digging in dry soil, which can cause bruising and shorten potatoes’ shelf life.

“We’re expecting to harvest fewer potatoes,” he said, “but the pack-out could be about the same because we’ll be throwing out less.”

With demand picking up for the holidays, Kreis said he’s pleased to see more ads and promotions, which were scarce in the summer when prices were high.

Potato yields are down a little from last year but the quality is “the best we’ve had in years,” said Paul Dolan, president of Associated Potato Growers Inc., Grand Forks, N.D.



The buzz in onion circles is around the active market.

Unexpected export opportunities from Mexico to Japan, combined with strong domestic demand for the holidays, have pushed up prices by $1-3 per 50-pound bag from last year.

“I don’t think we’ve ever seen export demand this time of year as good as it is right now,” said Don Ed Holmes, president of Weslaco, Texas-based The Onion House LLC.

“We’re exporting onions out of Colorado and Utah going to Mexico, and we’ve got onions out of Utah going to Central America,” said Holmes.

“We’re excited about the possibility of a real good winter and spring onion deal,” he said.

Washington growers, meanwhile, are still recovering from their soggy September harvest.

“On Sept. 14, with everything under cover, we all breathed a sigh of relief,” said Jason Walker, vice president sales and marketing for Bybee Produce LLC in Prosser, Wash., in the Columbia Basin.

Now that his onions are safely in storage, the big question is how well they’ll hold in the next six months, said Walker, who packs about 2 million 50-pound bags a season.

On the bright side, Washington growers are being courted by buyers from Mexico, Taiwan and Japan, whose own onions were hit by cold, wet weather.

In the high desert climate of northern Nevada, meanwhile, the onion season went by without a hitch for Yerington-based Peri & Sons.

“Our white onions have great size, shape and color, with record yields,” said president David Peri, adding that long-term storage looks promising.



Jeremy Sander, account manager at Lange Logistics in St. Louis, said trucks for onions are, as usual, scarce.

As for potatoes, Sander said Idaho is “steady as usual.”

He said southern Colorado got off to a slower start than in previous years.

He also noticed an increase in demand for trucks in western and central Texas, where potato operations have grown steadily in the past two years.

Holmes said the truck deal in all areas is still very difficult.

“But having a good onion market is the main thing,” he said. “We’ll deal with the trucks.”

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