Specialties demand rises slowly

07/06/2012 11:35:00 AM
Andy Nelson

Washington and Oregon growers report steady, if slow, growth in demand for specialty potatoes.

Volumes of specialty fresh-market potatoes from Washington increase about 8-9% every season, and 2012-13 shouldn’t be any different, said Chris Voigt, executive director of the Moses Lake-based Washington State Potato Commission.

“Every year we’re seeing growth in specialties,” Voigt said.

Growth is particularly strong in proprietary varieties such as yellow-flesh russets and yellow-flesh reds, he said.

Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. Inc. expects to ship a few more reds and fewer yellows from Washington next season, said Les Alderete, the company’s director of production and grower development.

The cause, he said, has more to do with Mother Nature than with the whims of consumers.

“It has to do with the rotation of crops,” he said. “It’s not demand driven.”

Red and yellow acreage will steal a little bit of acreage from russets in Oregon and Washington this year, said Dave Long, chief executive officer of the Othello, Wash.-based United Fresh Potato Growers of Washington-Oregon.

“It’s nothing drastic, but from what I’m hearing, reds and yellows will be up a little,” Long said.

Consumer demand for something new has driven the increases, he said.

“People like to like to try something different,” he said. “More restaurants have been offering reds, yellows, fingerlings, instead of a standard potato. And (growers) have been getting good prices.”

Those higher prices, however, could vanish in a hurry if growers get overly enthusiastic about the prospects for what is a niche item only, Long said.

“You can overdo it if you’re not careful.”



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