Strong market greets Washington, Oregon potatoes

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

“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.

“Oregon typically would be upper 70s and lower 80s, but we’ve had upper 90s and today we’re looking at 100,” Ken Rutledge, salesman for Klamath, Ore.-based Wong Potatoes Inc., said July 2.

“We’re fighting some weather and we’ve got water issues. They haven’t really started affecting us on the south side of the basin yet, but it’s coming.”


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