Despite weather, potato growers salvage year - The Packer

Despite weather, potato growers salvage year

12/02/2011 11:09:00 AM
Coral Beach

Grower-shippers in November expressed optimism that 2012 will be a positive year for potato markets, and, all things considered, 2011 turned out to be a pretty good one for the potato industry, too.

Overall, for 2012, growers said they expect high demand, beneficial market conditions and no major supply or quality issues affecting crops in the near future after 2011 culminated with a late November amendment to funding law solidifying the starchy vegetable’s place on school menus.

Thus, potentially terrible news from January, in the form of a recommendation to virtually remove potatoes from school meal programs, ended with a win.

With markets already reaching monumental highs and further increases expected, grower-shippers expect a profitable 2012 with solid retail sales expectations after a 2011 that saw Congressional debate and testimony put the spotlight on the nutritional value and low cost of potatoes throughout the year.

Weather woes

Grower Dick Okray, president of Okray Family Farms Inc., Plover, Wisc., said he expects the 2011-12 potato crop should meet or exceed expectations of most.

Courtesy Rigby ProduceWorkers wrap russets in foil at the Rigby Produce packing shed in Rigby, Idaho. Value-adde d fresh potato products do not yet account for a huge portion of sales, but they continue to help raise overall consumption and increase interest in the vegetable.

Okray, whose company claims about 1,800 acres of russets and several hundred acres of other varieties, noted his crop this year was up to 15% smaller than typical for his particular area, mostly because of weather issues.

“I expect we’ll ship about 1 million cwt. this year,” Okray said, adding that he thinks prices will remain good because of consistent demand. “People seem to be cooking at home more again, and that’s good news for us.”

West of Okray, Steve Tweten at NoKota Packers Inc. in Buxton N.D. is similarly optimistic about the prospects for 2012.

Tweten said weather has been a spotty problem for the growers he knows.

“One friend only got 50% because of the heavy rains,” Tweten said.

Overall, the North Dakota potato crop was down 4,000 cwt. The 2011 crop came in at 18,095 cwt., compared to the 2010 crop of 22,000 cwt.

Tidy potato profits

Except for those growers who were hit extra hard by the weather, Tweten predicted the 2011-12 potato crop would bring a tidy profit.

In the fourth week of November, he said 50-pound sacks of B red potatoes were $17.

“I don’t ever remember getting these kinds of prices,” Tweten said “and there’s a good probability prices will increase.”

In the spring of 2011, unusual weather disrupted plant and tuber development in many parts of the potato powerhouse of the Northwest U.S.

However, by harvest, Idaho, Washington and Oregon all saw increased yields compared to 2010, according to a Nov. 9 report from the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Overall, for 2011, the U.S. produced 424,139 cwt. potatoes, according to the NASS report.

The top three states and their 2011 and 2010 production amounts were:

  • Idaho — 127,070 cwt. for 2011; 112,970 cwt. for 2010;
  • Washington — 99,200 cwt. for 2011; 88,440 cwt. for 2010; and
  • Oregon — 23,342 cwt. for 2011; 20,058 cwt. for 2010.

Industry anticipation and preparation for an even larger crop than was harvested meant strong prices at the end of November.

Lee Frankel said a large portion of the crop would go to processing, helping to keep up table stock prices.

In the northern tier of the central U.S., weather took its toll in a sporadic fashion. In Wisconsin, the No. 4 potato-producing state, 2011 production was 22,320 cwt, according to NASS. That’s down from 24,293 cwt. in 2010.

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