REXBURG, Idaho — Idaho grower-shippers are hoping for more accurate forecasts of volumes throughout the 2014-15 marketing season.
Faulty predictions caused havoc near the end of the 2013-14 marketing season, said Frank Muir, president and chief executive officer of the Eagle-based Idaho Potato Commission.
“There was a little panic behavior at the end of the crop year, with reports that Idaho’s crop was early.”
That turned out to be not true, and drove the point that predictions can often we woefully inadequate, Muir said.
“I always caution our growers as to what they way. Until the crop is harvested, we don’t know.”
Saying too much too early, Muir said, “can have a negative impact on finishing the year we’re in.”
The 2013-14 season should have finished much differently than it did, Muir said.
“There was a perfect storm for prices to finish strong. Then we ran into some unnecessary behavior — behavior that was not rational.”
“A shovel is just a shovel,” Rob Rydalch, supply coordinator for Rexburg, Idaho-based Wilcox Fresh, likes to say.
It’s not a magic divining rod. Until it’s put to use and digs up potatoes, or whatever else it’s meant to dig up, it’s not doing anything.
Rydalch said that humble shovel is a lot like estimates of potato crop acreage. Until the work is actually done, it’s hard to know much.
“I don’t think it’s right for people to forecast what we have until we dig,” he said. “Sometimes estimates work, sometimes they don’t.”
In the 2013-14 season, estimates said the U.S. russet crop was shorter than it actually was, Rydalch said. The season before that, it was just the opposite.
The mystery is, given how much work goes into the estimates, why don’t they work better, Rydalch asks.
“With all the acres they count, it’s amazing they can be off so far.”
Miscalculated estimates this summer were a source of frustration for grower-shippers like Ryan Wahlen, sales manager for Aberdeen-based Pleasant Valley Potatoes Inc.
“There was no reason for the price drop we experienced in the summer.”
What Wahlen characterized as “fears” that the 2014 crop would be “big and early” – the reasoning used in lowering prices – did not materialize.
“We finished this year’s storage crop before last year’s,” he said.
Kevin Stanger, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Idaho Falls-based Wada Farms Marketing Group LLC, said Idaho is “infamous” for stories about its crop getting blown out of proportion.
Thus far this harvest season, some reports about the rains’ affect on sizing could fall into that category.
And last spring, carton markets “went wild” for three weeks, Stanger said, because there wasn’t thought to be enough product. When that proved to be untrue, markets headed in the other direction.
“There’s a tendency to cry wolf,” Stanger said.