Oregon potato grower-shippers are doing their part to reduce acreage and thereby buoy potato markets nationwide.
Now if their fellow spud-growing regions can just follow suit, growers and industry officials say 2009-10 could be a decent year.

Oregon potato acreage is down slightly in 2009, maybe by “a couple of percentage points,” said Bill Brewer, executive director of the Portland-based Oregon Potato Commission.

The decline is even steeper for fresh acreage in the Beaver State, Brewer said. Roughly 8,700 fresh acres were grown last year, he said. In 2009, that number will likely be about 5% smaller.

In other words, Oregon is fulfilling the wish of the Salt Lake City-based United Potato Growers of America and other industry groups: that growers continue to rein in acreage to prevent depressed markets, particularly in the wake of recent strong markets, which many worry could lead to overproduction.

But whether Oregon’s 5% cut will be enough to help buoy markets is largely out of the state’s growers’ hands, Brewer said.

“I would think that would be sufficient but it all depends on what other areas are doing, and I haven’t heard,” he said.

Good growing weather in late May and early June had the Oregon potato crop grown by Sherwood, Ore.-based Amstad Produce Inc. on track for a late July harvest start, said Tony Amstad president.

Last year’s crop didn’t come out of the ground until about Aug. 10, he said.

“The crop looks very well,” Amstad said June 11. “We’ve had some very good weather the last couple of weeks. The crop is gaining ground.”

The earlier start to the Oregon deal could be a good or a bad thing, Amstad said, depending on the status of supplies remaining from the 2008-09 crop.

“It depends on how the old crop cleans up,” he said. “Last year (the late start) was a blessing in disguise. There was a late finish to the storage crop last year.”

In late July of this year, meanwhile, there will likely “still be some old storage floating,” Amstad said.

Acreage for Amstad Produce will be similar to last year, Amstad said. Some regions of Oregon, like the South Basin, should be down overall in 2009-10.

Whether that can make up for what happens elsewhere in the country, Amstad isn’t sure.

Early reports out of other growing regions are not encouraging.

“I’m not really optimistic,” he said. “Unless something changes awful fast.”

Oregon and Washington fresh potato acreage combined could be down up to 10% this coming season, said Dave Long, chief executive officer of United Co-op of Oregon & Washington, Othello, Wash.

Harvest is expected to start in late July, about a week to ten days late, with good quality and yields expected in both states, Long said.

“On the early and late crops, the red, yellow and russets all look good,” he said. “If the weather stays as good, it should be average or above average on yields and quality.”

The late start could mean an emptier pipeline when the new crop starts shipping, Long said.

“It’s going to help clean out the storage crop here, in Idaho and in Colorado,” he said. “We’ll get a jump on the early market, we hope.”

As other states enter the fresh deal, however, the market environment for Oregon and Washington could change, Long said.

“There’s a big question on Idaho,” he said. “We know they’re going to be up.”

Other states, however, that have state chapters affiliated with Salt Lake City-based United Potato Growers of America, which encourages and helps growers rein in acreage to keep markets strong, are expected to hold the line or reduce acreage in 2009-10, Long said.

But because Idaho is so much bigger than anyone else, an acreage boost there could send ripples throughout the entire industry.

Long does not think Idaho deserves blame for the expected boost. The state reduced its acreage severely last season, he said.

“Idaho is adhering to the cuts just like everybody else,” he said.
Diverted acreage from processor markets due to sluggish demand could pose another headache for Washington and Oregon growers if that excess product is dumped on the fresh market, Long said.