Fall U.S. potato production drops from 2009

12/10/2010 12:02:07 PM
Cynthia David

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.

Tim Feit, marketing director for the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association Inc., Antigo, said with all the rain, growers were concerned about storage issues, “but we haven’t seen any so far.

“The timing of the rains allowed us to get the crop out of the ground,” he said. “Overall, it’s an average crop of good quality.”

Paul Dolan, general manager of Associated Potato Growers Inc., Grand Forks, N.D., said his red potato packing cooperative is facing its most severe transportation shortage in five years.

Supply is down for a number of reasons, Dolan said. Some truckers are getting out of the business and having a hard time finding drivers, and the holiday season is always a challenge.

“We’ve been moving more potatoes by rail to help keep movement up,” he said, “but rail rates aren’t always appealing — in a lot of places they’re higher than trucks.”

Associated also is moving one of two trucks to the rain-soaked upper Washington area, he said. “We typically don’t get in that area until spring.”

After two wet years, Prince Edward Island finally got a break this summer, said Greg Donald, general manager of the Charlottetown-based Prince Edward Island Potato Board.

In fact, a dry spell at the end of August took the edge off what looked like a spectacular season.

As growers plan for next year, Frankel said they should not consider increasing acreage.

“As yields come up to their expected level, we will get a fairly significant jump of 4% in total supply for 2011 and 2012, even with no change in acreage,” he said.



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