TWIN FALLS, Idaho — Heavy rains hit the Idaho potato crop late this growing season, and while it could affect the sizing of some spuds, grower-shippers and marketers expect good quality and a normal sized crop.
Gary Garnand, owner of Garnand Marketing LLC, didn’t expect the rainy August to adversely affect the 2014-15 crop.
“The crop looks very good,” Garnand said. “I’m not sure about the yields, but I think they’re fairly heavy. Quality is better than average.”
Growers enjoyed “one of the best Mays and Junes we’ve ever had,” he said. July was on the hot side, August brought rain, but Garnand hadn’t heard reports of any damage.
Sizing thus far on norkotahs has been “pretty good,” Garnand said. Not enough burbanks had been dug yet to tell what size was like on those.
Kevin Stanger, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Idaho Falls-based Wada Farms Marketing Group LLC, said that while there were reports of smaller sizing north of Idaho Falls, they may be offset by bigger sizing to the south.
“There are some areas where the size was slightly affected, but overall, the crop is looking good.
Because of the rains, some growers were pushing to sell new-crop spuds out of the field, said Ralph Schwartz, vice president of marketing, sales and innovation for Idaho Falls-based Potandon Produce.
Schwartz was confident, however, that the 2014-15 crop will store well, and he said the quality out of the gate was “really good.”
As for size, while the early-season norkotahs were on the small side, burbanks could be another story.
“Through the holidays, norkotahs are going to be on the small side, but the burbank crop could be a night and day difference,” Schwartz said. “I don’t think the first two months of the norkotah crop is the entire story. We could still have close to an historically average crop.”
The late-season rains had the effect of putting a month-long pause button on the crop, said Ryan Wahlen, sales manager of Aberdeen-based Pleasant Valley Potatoes Inc.
“The July 31 crop was pretty much what we had on Sept. 1,” Wahlen said. “For three weeks it was in the high 60s, low 70s, and we got five inches of rain. It limited the size profile of the crop.”
In addition, a hard freeze the week of Sept. 8 put an exclamation point on things.
“Any plants that still had life, it took care of them.”
Smaller size does have its benefits, among them fewer knots, cracks and other blemishes, Wahlen said.
“You tend to get better quality.”
Despite the rain, reports from fields and sheds were positive in the second half of September, said Rob Rydalch, supply coordinator for Rexburg, Idaho-based Wilcox Fresh.
“This is a very nice crop we’re running,” Rydalch said.
While the company hadn’t seen any damage from the rain, it did slow things down.
“We lost two weeks of growth because it was so wet,” Rydalch said. “It really took the edge of yield and size.”
Temperatures dipped to 22 degrees the week of Sept. 8, Rydalch said, but it turned out to be a good thing. The cold killed plants, which saved growers from having to use chemicals to kill them.
“Anytime you can save growers money in a cheap market, it’s a good thing.”
Ironically, the next week it was so hot some days, Wilcox Fresh crews weren’t harvesting, Rydalch said.
Wilcox Fresh began harvesting Aug. 13 in the Caldwell area in western Idaho, about 360 miles from Rexburg.
After that, the company gradually moves its harvest eastward, Rydalch said.
While skin quality and overall quality looks excellent thus far, sizing and yields are an issue in some regions this year.
“North of Idaho Falls they’re kind of on the small side,” Rydalch said. “And people are saying their yields are still substantial, but I find that hard to believe.”
Many individual plants were yielding a large number of spuds in the Rexburg area, Rydalch said, but they tended to be smaller than normal.
One of the keys to a good start this season, Rydalch said, was growers’ willingness to kill plants early. Wilcox Fresh insists on 21 days of maturity; with the early kills, most growers are closer to 25 to 28 days this year.
“That means better packouts,” Rydalch said.
Wilcox Fresh also was seeing less pink rot than last year as of the week of Sept. 15.
Wilcox Fresh expects to market about 3,500 acres of potatoes this season, Rydalch said. Consistency is the name of the game for the company.
“We have about 90% of the growers we started with when I came here 10 years ago,” he said. “We don’t go out beating on anyone’s door trying to pick off any other growers.”
Heyburn, Idaho-based Southwind Farms began harvesting fingerlings the first week of August and expects to go through mid-October, said Robert Tominaga, the company’s president.
“The rain slowed down harvest, but everything looks really nice,” he said.
Southwind will try to stretch harvest as long as it can.
“We try to bring them out fresh.”
Just when it looked like the season would get off to an early start, the rains came, said Frank Muir, president and chief executive officer of the Eagle-based Idaho Potato Commission.
“This is a unique year,” Muir said. “Harvest appeared to be a week or two weeks ahead of schedule, but we received a deluge of rain. It definitely slowed movement. It put it back to more normal timing, probably. But I think it will be a good year.”