Red, yellow potato production grows

07/13/2010 10:08:51 AM
Andy Nelson

Wisconsin potato grower-shippers are bullish on red and yellow potatoes heading into the new crop, while whites continue their slide.

Friesland, Wis.-based Alsum Farms & Produce Inc. plans to ship a similar mix of varieties this year, said Larry Alsum, the company’s president and general manager — about 65% russets, 25% reds and 10% yellows, whites and specialties.

While white volumes have continued to decline, yellow volumes continue to increase — to the point, Alsum said, where his company now ships more yellows than whites.

Of that 10% “other” category, yellows make up about 7%, whites about 2% and purples, fingerlings and other specialties about 1%.

Rosholt, Wis.-based Bushmans’ Inc. bought half of Oakdale, Calif.-based Discovery Garden’s LLC last fall, and now Bushmans’ is ramping up production of the company’s patented Sierra Gold and Sierra Rose varieties, said Mike Carter, Bushmans’ chief executive officer.

“They’re fantastic varieties with fantastic taste, and we have very high expectations for them,” Carter said.

The Sierra Gold is a yellow-skinned, yellow-flesh variety and the Sierra Rose is a red-skinned, yellow-flesh variety, he said.

Bushmans’ is growing the golds at its Rice Lake facility, and the company has contracted with North Dakota growers to grow the rose, Carter said. Bushmans’ and Discovery Garden’s also have growers contracted in the Northwest and on the East Coast.

“Volumes have increased consistently the past three years,” he said.

“Consumers love them, and we believe that as time goes on, they’ll get more traction in the market.”

Red acreage is similar this year for Plover, Wis.-based Okray Family Farms, but Dick Okray, the company’s co-owner, expects strong demand, particularly considering the weather problems in a major red-producing state.

“It seems North Dakota has had too much rain,” he said. “We’re projecting a real good red crop.”

Russet acreage for Okray Family Farms, meanwhile, will be down slightly and yellow acreage up slightly in 2010-11, Okray said.

The 2010-11 season will likely see a repeat of 2009-10, when reds’ stock was rising and whites’ was heading in the opposite direction, said Tom Lundgren, owner and president of Stevens Point, Wis.-based Spud City Sales LLC.

“The red movement last year was phenomenal, and there were very few whites,” he said. “We couldn’t give them away last year.”

Heading into the Wisconsin red deal, set to get under way when digging begins in late July, the pipeline was likely to be fairly clean, Lundgren said.

“Florida and California are cleaning up really well on reds,” he said. “It’s tough to find them out there.”

Tim Verpoorten, salesman for Plover, Wis.-based Katz Produce Sales LLC, also predicted a strong start to red sales.

“The red market should stay firm for awhile, with the late plantings and wet (weather) in North Dakota and Minnesota,” he said.

“It’s a good solid market, and I don’t see it changing for awhile.”

Each year, Wisconsin growers produce a few more reds than the year before, Verpoorten said.

Yellows — in particular, new varieties of yellows — also are on the rise, he said. Katz, like Bushmans’, is a marketer of the Sierra Gold, which the company likes because of its hardiness, Verpoorten said.

“It has very good storage capability, unlike other yellow varieties, which seem to have trouble with storage,” he said. “We can ship Sierra Golds through late spring.”

While reds and yellows are on the rise for Katz, Verpoorten echoes his fellow shippers and marketers when it comes to whites.

“Whites are down to a fraction of what they used to be,” he said.

“Every year we’re seeing fewer whites grown for the table market.”



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