September - October prices for Idaho potatoes ( USDA )

(UPDATED, Oct. 24)  Weather in Idaho and the Red River Valley in North Dakota and Minnesota will affect how many table stock potatoes those regions have this season. 

“Really the biggest news going on is the weather and Mother Nature; it has changed our outlook this year,” said Joe Esta, vice president of Wada Farms, Idaho Falls, Idaho, at the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit.

Cold weather in Idaho and heavy rains in the Red River Valley prevented harvest in some regions, Esta said.

The extent of crop loss in Idaho is unknown, but Esta said it could be significant. Some fields won’t be harvested, while others will be harvested because of insurance requirements but may not have the right quality for the fresh market.

“I would guess (damage) is probably in the 20% range; some northern Idaho farmers got affected a lot worse, it was lot colder weather while some of the guys (in southern) areas have most of their crop in,” he said. 

A snowstorm and cold weather in late September and early October hit northern Idaho growing regions.

“We can handle cold for a couple of days, but after that it got cold in the single digits in some areas,” Esta said.

Moisture in the fields didn’t allow potatoes to warm up, he said. In addition, an earlier frost in June knocked yields down for some growers.

“All of those factors are going to make for an interesting market, and then North Dakota lost some of their crop,” he said.

Industry reports indicate Idaho probably had roughly 15% or more of the potato crop still in the ground when the hard freeze nights started on Oct. 9, Mark Klompien, president and CEO of the United Potato Growers of America, said in an e-mail. Most of those potatoes were destined for the fresh sector but some were targeted for processor use.

“Of those remaining with the high likelihood of potential damage, we’ve heard anywhere from 10% to as high as 40% frost damage,” Klompien said.

North Dakota crop lagging 

The USDA’s crop progress report for Minnesota reported Oct. 21 that 64% of potatoes were harvested on that date, well behind 89% harvested the same time last year.

Unusually heavy rains and snow has slowed harvest, said Jeff Lazur, sales representative for Associated Potato Growers Inc., Grand Forks, N.D.

Growers for the company only had about a third of their crop harvested as of Oct. 24, compared to 90% completed on similar dates in recent years. With cold weather moving in soon, growers could be hard-pressed to finish, he said.

From the first part of September into late October, between eight and 16 inches of rain fell, in addition to anywhere from 10-25 inches of snow. He said perhaps 50% to 60% of potato fields around Grand Forks was still at risk.

“The markets are definitely being pushed,” Lazur said.

The Northern Plains Potato Growers Association, which represents North Dakota and Minnesota growers, said that only 45% to 50% of the potatoes had been harvested in the immediate Red River Valley region, with fresh and seed growers hit particularly hard.

“North Dakota’s wet weather has had an equal if not larger impact on their potato crop,” Klompien said. “Many fields south of Grand Forks will not be harvested, It’s a little bit better situation north of Grand Forks but still serious, as North Dakota is probably only 70% or so harvested, and again, mostly impacting fresh potatoes.”

Market spike

Esta said the U.S. hasn’t experienced a shortfall of potatoes since about 1985.

“Most people have never had an experience where there’s a shortage of potatoes,” he said. “It will be an interesting year and markets will be a lot higher, I believe.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported truck shipments of Idaho potatoes the week of Oct. 13 to Oct. 19 were 29% below year-ago levels, while shipments from North Dakota were off by about half.

The shipping point price for Idaho 60-count russet potatoes was about $15 per carton on Oct. 22, up from about $10 per carton on Oct. 10.

Packers will not run at full capacity so they can preserve supply for as long as possible. By May, upward pressure on prices may be unavoidable, Esta said.

“Back in the day we used to have a month-and-a-half spread where we made room for other areas,” he said. “You could see a lot longer spread (without potatoes) if people aren’t careful with supply this year,” he said.

Potato crop yields and quality were good in Ohio and Michigan, said Todd Michael, owner of Michael Family Farms, Urbana, Ohio. But the uncertainty and potential shrink faced by Idaho packers is a big question mark, he said

Prices of Red River Valley potatoes are already well above year-ago levels.

The USDA reported on Oct. 22 that the price of 50-pound cartons of Red River Valley size B round red potatoes was $23-25.50, up from $14-16.50 per carton the same time a year ago.
 

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