Wisconsin potato grower-shippers seemed to be headed into a healthy market as they prepared to dig their first new-crop spuds.
As of July 17, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 50-pound cartons of norkotah potatoes from Central Wisconsin were $18.50-22.50 for size 40s; $18-22.50, 50, 60s and 70s; $18.50-21, 80s; $13-17, 90s; and $13-15, 100s. A year earlier, the same product was $16-17 for sizes 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s; $14-15, 80s; $11-13, 90s; and $10-13, 100s.
The weather has cooperated during the current growing season, said Dana Rady, director of promotion, communication and consumer education with the Antigo-based Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association.
Growing conditions have been good this year, Rady said July 16.
“Some areas have received adequate — and borderline excessive — rainfall, but the crop is looking very nice and has good quality,” Rady said.
“The degree to which the rain fell, as well as the amounts, is quite varied across the state as other areas are more dry than normal. Some yellows started hooking earlier than last year, paving the way for a potential earlier start. Reds are on their way to begin the end of July, followed by russets, as we get into August.”
Wet, cold weather caused some delay in planting at Antigo-based Farmers Potato Exchange Inc., but conditions improved, said Dave Cofer, president.
“Harvest is looking like it will be a week to 10 days later than normal,” he said July 17.
“We should start digging chip potatoes around July 26. The quality of the crop looks good, but yields appear to be down. We expect to start on table stock around Aug. 10-15.”
The upcoming crop appears to be “one of the best” in years, said Christine Lindner, marketing manager with Friesland, Wis.-based Alsum Farms & Produce
“Test digs at the farm of russet, red and gold potato varieties are indicating a promising year with 90% of the fields look average or above,” she said.
“It’s still a little early to tell on yields and size profile but our early varieties are sizing up well.”
Alsum was on track to start harvest of reds and golds the week of July 27 and russet potatoes, Aug. 12, Lindner said.
The potato market for the bakers, reds and golds has been trending upward during the summer months, she said.
“Wisconsin will be able to provide quality new crop by early August at competitive prices that will allow retailers to run promotions on new-crop potatoes during the latter half of the summer months and into fall,” she said.
Mike Carter, business development director with Rosholt, Wis.-based Bushmans’ Inc., said growing conditions had been nearly “perfect” this year.
“There’s a lot of optimism about size,” Carter said. “Our sample digs are showing we’re well ahead of where you’d expect for this time of year. But the fact is, we’ve got a long way to go.”
Bushmans’ was looking to start running russets Aug. 7-10, which would be on time, Carter said.
“I think it’s possible we’ll be a little bit early,” he said. “The calculus is trying to find that sweet spot. You want the potatoes as soon as you can, but the right size.”
The market should be “decent” this year, Carter said.
“It truly is a true supply-and-demand marketplace as it pertains to potatoes,” he said.
“If we have a really good crop, that’s a good thing; that’s another one where you’re trying to find that sweet spot. You don’t want too many potatoes. We’re looking at an average to slightly-above-average crop.”
Dick Okray, president of Plover, Wis.-based Okray Family Farms Inc., also voiced optimism.
“So far, our quality looks just perfect,” he said.
“We’re hoping for a prolonged period of dry weather and warm days. Put in a prayer.”
Much of Wisconsin’s potato production is located in the state’s 1.75 million-acre Central Sands region, which rests on deposits of sand and gravel, Okray said.
“It’s good for potatoes, excellent for all vegetable crops,” Okray said. “There’s good drainage and an aquifer.”
Okray said he anticipated an early start to this year’s potato deal.
“I think the crop’s going to be a bit earlier than last year — late July or early August for reds and yellows and russets in great abundance by mid-August,” he said. “We’ve had some excess of rains, except we’re in the Central Sands, which can take rain.”
Bancroft, Wis.-based grower-shipper RPE Inc. also expects a good potato crop, said Greg Zdroik, director of grower relations and sourcing.
“The crop went in the ground early, slowed a bit during May, due to some colder temperatures, but has come on beautifully since then,” he said.
“At this point in time, we are anticipating to begin the harvest of our red potatoes the week of July 27. Yellow and russet potato harvest is expected to begin the week of Aug. 10.”
The crop of reds and yellows was looking “great” in mid-July, said Tom Bulgrin, potato salesman with Endeavor, Wis.-based Gumz Farms.
“Recent rains have been timely; we were a little dry, but got needed rains last week,” he said July 16.
Gumz Farms was looking to start harvest Aug. 17, which would be on time, Bulgrin said.
“Quality is above average, and size is good,” he said.
“As far as the market goes, consumers will continue to shop retail; we are hoping that with increased supply of reds this year, there will be more movement at the store level. We are quoting higher prices going into fall.”