Coral BeachThird-generation potato grower-shipper Ryan Wahlen handles sales for the four families who operate Pleasant Valley Potato Inc. in Aberdeen,Idaho. He predicts a good crop for 2011, but said a delayed growing season because of weather would mean slightly smaller spuds.Coming off of two record years in terms of total crop value and a record yield in 2009, the Idaho potato industry will probably have to be satisfied with merely a good performance for the 2011-12 season.
“We will definitely be in the five-year average range for yields,” said Frank Muir, president and chief executive officer of the Idaho Potato Commission, Eagle. “But we’re not going to see a record like two years ago.”
The 2010 Idaho potato crop value, announced Sept. 29 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, was $915 million with a market year average record price of $8.10 per cwt. for growers. The 2009 Idaho potato crop value set a record at $855 million with a market year average price for growers of $6.45 per cwt.
Fresh prices in 2010 averaged $9.55 per cwt, more than double the 2009 average of $4.25 per cwt.
Even though acreage is up almost 27,000 acres for the 2011-12 potato fiscal year in Idaho, yields and prices are not expected to top 2010 levels. Unfavorable weather conditions resulted in late crop development and delayed harvest, especially in southeastern Idaho.
“It’s been an odd growing season,” Travis Blacker, president of the Idaho Grower Shipper Association, Idaho Falls, said Sept. 28.
“Most sheds had to wait longer than usual to start running, but we haven’t had a freeze yet, so some growers are reporting that they are leaving some spuds in the ground a while longer to get some better size.”
Bucking that trend, Wada Farms’ packing shed in Pingree, Idaho, was up and running two weeks before Labor Day. Idaho Falls-based Wada Farms Marketing Group LLC is the exclusive marketer for Wada Farms and Dole fresh potatoes.
WadaChris Wada, marketing and new product development manager, said the family company was able to start shipping earlier than many others because russets harvested in the western parts of the state came in earlier than those along the Snake River Valley in the southeast. Wada Farms has about 30,000 acres of potatoes.
At Potandon Produce LLC, Idaho Falls, vice president of sales Dick Thomas Jr. said he expected a solid year for the 2011 crop because of good growing conditions late in the season. However, he stopped short of predicting record yields or prices, blaming the wet cold spring.
Just up the highway a few miles in Rigby, Idaho, brothers Bryan and Scott Mickelsen had similar predictions for the 2011 potatoes. Bryan Mickelsen is general manager and Scott Mickelsen handles sales at family-owned Rigby Produce Inc. In the last week of August their packing shed was running potatoes that had been trucked in from the west side of the state.
The Mickelson brothers began harvest in southeast Idaho in late September. They are seeing good yields, but they don’t expect this to be a record-setting season.
Grower-shippers throughout the Snake River Valley said they anticipated strong prices for the 2011-12 fiscal year, though none thought they would top the 2010 prices. Weekly reports Sept. 19 to Oct. 1 from the United Potato Growers of Idaho showed a collapse in russet count carton prices, but industry insiders said such drops are usual at this time of year.
“I’m a little disappointed in the prices right now, but not surprised,” said the IPC’s Muir. “There is a high grower return now, so it’s hard for them to put the potatoes in storage and wait for the prices to change.”