After last year’s big yields, 2010 fall potato production has fallen about 8% from 2009 levels.
A U.S. Department of Agriculture report in early November put fall U.S. potato production at about 361 million cwt.
“Acreage is off because of the bloodbath we had last year,” said Kevin Stanger, senior vice president of sales at Wada Farms Marketing Group, Idaho Falls, Idaho.
“Prices were so terrible that a lot of guys went into other crops,” Stanger said. “And yields are off because of the growing summer.”
Lee Frankel, president and chief executive officer of United Potato Growers of America, Salt Lake City, urges shippers to get out of last year’s deflationary mindset, where they had to take any offer that covered the cost of packaging.
“If they can price the crop at a more historic or normal level, we should have a balanced supply for the year, and there should be ample supply for promotions throughout the season,” Frankel said.
Frank Muir, chief executive officer of the Idaho Potato Commission, Eagle, said yields on Idaho’s 295,000 harvested acres were average compared to the past five years.
“Quality looks really good,” he said. “I see this as a right-size, right-profile crop. Prices are up from last year and we’d like to see them even out without so many ups and downs. I think customers appreciate more stability.”
Potatoes as a category have done well during the recession because consumers are looking for the best value, said Seth Pemsler, the commission’s vice president for retail and international.
“Potatoes are the least costly per-pound item in the produce section,” said Pemsler. “If you’re looking to feed your family, what’s cheaper than a bag of potatoes?”
Jim Ehrlich, executive director of the Colorado Potato Administrative Committee, Monte Vista, reports better sizes and quality than last year, with yields down slightly.
Ted Kreis, marketing director for Northern Plains Potato Growers Association, East Grand Forks, Minn., said he’s seen a good demand for the region’s reds, and prices are holding steady.
“We’re not seeing lot of competition or low prices, which can be a detriment to reds,” he said. “And the Red River is picking up more business than normal because of smaller crops in Washington and Wisconsin.”
Tom Campbell, co-owner of Campbell Farms, Grafton, N.D., said the market is decent, “not gangbusters and not slowing. It’s exactly where we want it so we can stretch our inventory until late spring.”
Campbell’s 600-acre Florida farm is a week or two ahead of schedule, he said, a promising start after losses of 30% to 40% in last winter’s two hard freezes.