Red River Valley potato growers say they will have a crop with good color, good quality, a variety of sizes and plenty of volume.
The question is, what will they get in return for their product?
“They look good,” said Colleen Vincent, manager of Northern Valley Growers, Hoople, N.D. “I’m not sure how the market will be, but they look good.”
The Red River Valley has long held a niche in the potato market, producing a spud crop that is more than 90% red potatoes. But more and more reds are being produced in other growing areas around the country.
“There are more areas throughout the year growing colored potatoes,” said Paul Dolan,
president of Associated Growers Inc., Grand Forks, N.D. “The East Coast, even in the Midwest, there are little pockets popping up where people are growing colored potatoes.”
Idaho, in particular, could pose a threat to the Red River Valley potato industry. Dolan estimated that potato powerhouse is producing 10 times more reds than it did just five years ago.
“We’re seeing more and more reds coming out of Idaho,” he said. “That’s bad for us. They can ship out of storage like us. They can provide customers with all varieties right from their shed. They’re finding ways to make it work where before they couldn’t grow decent reds. They didn’t used to grow hardly any, but it’s increasing every year. They are producing better reds than they were previously.”
Kevin Olson, owner of Ben Holmes Potato, Becker, Minn., said growing more reds allows Idaho growers to supply reds, russets and golds from their own sheds year round.
“If there are more reds available, it could bring prices down,” he said.
Olson said Ben Holmes has shipped 10 to 15 loads of consumer packs to Supervalu stores in Minnesota for several years. But the retailer replaced his company as a supplier this year with an Idaho potato and onion shipper that offers year-round supplies.
“Some Minnesota stores are going to get supplied with Idaho potatoes,” he said.
While demand for local product didn’t help Ben Holmes in that instance, Olson said that trend is working against the area’s growers in some markets. Olson said Ben Holmes had seen decreased demand for russets and reds from East Coast customers because of the trend for local sourcing.
“Freight costs are huge,” he said. “People are trying to reduce freight costs by buying more local product. If they can get something from their own state or bordering states, they will.”
Despite the challenges, sources said demand for reds is increasing in retail and foodservice.
“Demand for red and yellow potatoes in both sectors has increased the past two shipping seasons quite rapidly at the expense of russets,” said Ted Kreis, marketing and communications director
For the Northern Plains Potato Growers Association, East Grand Forks, Minn. “I think there are a number of factors, including more exposure of colored potatoes on cable food networks, women’s magazines and restaurant menus. There has also been a substantial increase in retail promotions and shelf space as red potatoes grow in popularity.”
According to the Nielsen Perishables Group, red potato volume increased 5.3% for the 52-week period ending July 26 while russet volume fell 7.4% during the same period.