Strong market greets Washington, Oregon potatoes - The Packer

Strong market greets Washington, Oregon potatoes

07/12/2013 02:11:00 PM
Mike Hornick

Shane Marston, salesman for Quincy, Wash.-based Jones Produce Inc., said supplies are tight. But he didn’t expect much of a gap.

“This year we had way too many potatoes everywhere,” Marston said. “But we’re finding out there were problems with storages in Idaho and Washington. It seems like packouts have been off since early spring. Throw in that a lot of packers went to cattle or elsewhere with the product and it has really tightened the crop.”

“I don’t think there will be a gap,” he said. “Everyone is slowing down now, trying to make it last. But Bakersfield had such a huge reduction on the russet side, there’s not that new crop California to fall back on. We thought it could be a year-and-a-half problem, but it looks like all the old crop will be used up. There won’t be any carryover.”

Kern County cut russet acreage about 40% this year, Marston said, after being greeted by less than premium prices in recent years as storage crop remained plentiful against its new crop.

“A lot of our customers leave old crop when Bakersfield starts,” he said.

“With less new crop Bakersfield to go around, that will definitely help Washington get cleaned up.”

“Idaho is going to clean up their old crop and we will too,” said Dave Long, a grower, consultant and former chief executive officer of Othello, Wash.-based United Fresh Potato Growers of Washington & Oregon Inc.

“And western Idaho is not going to be as early as last year, so I think we’re going to have a better shot at a market.”

Dale Lathim, who succeeded Long as chief executive officer, sees an opportunity for his growers to fill gaps in late July and August.

“We hope that we’ll be able to maintain some very strong pricing through that whole period,” Lathim said.

“As long as everybody manages the shipments correctly when we get into September and doesn’t flood the market, we should be able to hold that price for much longer than we have in past years.”

Fifty-pound cartons of norkotah russets shipped f.o.b. for $10-12 on July 1, according to the USDA, up from $7-8 a year ago.

Washington and Oregon planted 207,000 acres of potatoes in 2012. Washington is down about 3% this year to 160,000 acres, according to the USDA. Fall acreage nationwide is down about 4%.

Growers in both states had some concerns as temperatures surpassed 90 degrees in early July.

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