HEYBURN, Idaho — Demand for many varieties and sizes of Idaho potatoes should be strong this season.
Fingerling acreage is up about 20% this year for Heyburn, Idaho-based Southwind Farms, and Robert Tominaga, the company’s president, has no worries about finding the demand to meet it.
“With California’s drought, I think it will work out well for us,” he said. “I think we’ll see more demand from what would have been their sales.”
But it’s not just lower production in Kern County and other growing regions of California that’s spiking demand for Idaho-grown fingerlings, Tominaga said.
A larger trend is at work.
“The trend in the potato world is that russets are flat to declining, and specialties have seen a large increase in demand.”
Kevin Stanger, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Idaho Falls-based Wada Farms Marketing Group LLC, doesn’t see a big change in the market for smaller potatoes, but 40s, 50s and 60s could get a boost.
“Demand is strong for the larger stuff, and prices could inch up.”
Gary Garnand, owner of Twin Falls, Idaho-based Garnand Marketing LLC, said shippers and marketers are looking forward to higher prices as the new-crop deal gets into full swing.
“The market seems to be stable, and when we get everything into storage, we hope to see prices increase a little bit.”
Increased demand from another corner of the potato industry could benefit Idaho fresh shippers this year, Garnand said.
“According to everything I’ve been able to read, it looks like we’ll have plenty of potatoes, but the processing market seems to be active. They’ve increased exports quite a bit.”
If processing export markets can absorb some of that volume, it would be a big help, Garnand said. If they can’t, it could be a challenge.
“We could be in for prices at this level, no higher.”
Demand was a frustrating paradox at the beginning of the new-crop Idaho season, said Ryan Wahlen, sales manager for Aberdeen-based Pleasant Valley Potatoes Inc.
“Demand has been good, but prices aren’t good. They’re below the cost of production. But they always fluctuate. Typically a down year is followed by a good year.”
Still, he said, the market has a steep hill to climb.
“The problem is they’re starting at such a low point, it usually takes a while to get up.”
Unfortunately, Wahlen said, it’s one link in the supply chain that shows the most strain when markets are depressed.
“Shippers and marketers are going to make money. It’s the growers who suffer.”
Sizing was smaller than usual in some Idaho growing areas, but in some cases, that could wind up being a boon for demand, said Rob Rydalch, supply coordinator for Rexburg, Idaho-based Wilcox Fresh.
“There will be 60s, but I don’t think there will be a lot of 50s, which is not all bad.”
There used to be a better market for the largest spuds in Texas, Rydalch said. But now that the Lone Star State has started growing more of its own big potatoes, there’s less demand for Idaho product.
Overall, Rydalch does have some concerns about demand.
“Fresh consumption is going down.”
With both adults in households working, there’s less time to cook, and fresh potatoes take time, he said.