Greater acreage causes concern of oversaturation

07/06/2012 12:02:00 PM
Andy Nelson

Washington and Oregon grower-shippers are concerned that overproduction nationwide this season could hurt demand for their potatoes.

Red potato markets were depressed the week of June 18, less than a month after Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. Inc. expects to begin marketing Washington reds from the Sunnyside area, said Les Alderete, L&M’s director of production and grower development.

“Kern County is slow, and Florida is finishing sluggishly,” Alderete said June 19.

Both russet and red markets will likely see some overlap from old crop to new crop later this summer, which will likely keep markets from strengthening significantly, Alderete said.

“It won’t be like the last two years,” where demand spiked out of the gate for new-crop potatoes, Alderete said.

Also, sluggish markets at the beginning of the deal could persist, barring unforeseen weather problems in Washington or other growing regions, he said.

“If Mother Nature doesn’t step in, we could see an oversupply,” he said. “Acreage and plantings are showing an oversupply.”

As of late June, Washington spuds looked as good as they ever have for that time of year, thanks to cooler-than-normal growing weather, said Chris Voigt, executive director of the Moses Lake-based Washington State Potato Commission,

That’s good news for quality and yields. But if all areas of the country yield similarly well, there could be a problem, Voigt said.

“A lot can happen between now and September, but it’s likely to be a big crop, given the number of acres and the good weather across the country,” Voigt said June 26.

After a wet, cold start to the season, growers in Oregon and Washington have enjoyed near-ideal conditions, said Dave Long, chief executive officer of the Othello, Wash.-based United Fresh Potato Growers of Washington-Oregon.

That’s good news for spud quality, but if other major growing regions enjoy similarly nice weather, demand could suffer, Long said.

“Hopefully it will be up, but it doesn’t paint a very pretty picture right now.”

Oregon growers expect to have plenty of old-crop product to carry over into the new crop, but Bill Brewer, executive director of the Portland-based Oregon Potato Commission, doesn’t anticipate a glut.

“I think it will work out pretty well,” he said. “There aren’t a huge amount left in storage.”

And, he added, marketers should be excited to get their hands on new-crop spuds, which as of the week of June 18 had benefited from excellent growing weather.

“There’s always the desire to get the new crop out there,” Brewer said. “I think it’s going to be pretty good, completing last year and starting the new one.”

After the opening of the 2012-13 season, however, growers in Oregon and other major producing states could be in for a fight to keep prices up, Brewer said.

“If all the potatoes planted make it to market, there will be a challenge to make the supply/demand curve work out,” he said.



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