( Photo courtesy Eiliv-Sonas Aceron )

For the first time in years, two weather events have created a significant challenge to marketers of potatoes over the winter and spring months.

Late-season cold weather in Idaho and heavy precipitation in the Red River Valley spoiled some of the 2019 potato crop, pushing prices sharply higher, especially for red potatoes.

In the Red River Valley of Minnesota and North Dakota, the USDA reported 50-pound cartons of size B round red potatoes were $23-25 on Nov. 13, up from $14-15 per carton the same time a year go.
The Idaho russet burbank price for 60-count 50-pound cartons was reported at $16-19, up from $8-9 per carton the same time a year ago.

In late November, Ted Kreis, marketing and communications director for the East Grand Fork, Minn.-based Northern Plain Potato Growers Association said the region may only have half of the red potatoes that grower-shippers harvested ago. That is significant, he said, because the Red River Valley is the U.S. leader in red potato production.
“That has a huge effect on the red prices for the whole country this year,” he said.

Red River Valley shippers still plan on shipping into the spring months, with elevated prices expected to slow demand and extend availability.

“The prices are up and I expect that to continue for the season,” he said.

Nov. 14
Weather cuts potato acreage, production dips 6%
By Tom Karst

Growers have fewer potatoes to sell compared with a year ago but they are getting more money for what they do have.

U.S. production of potatoes is down 6% this year, according to the first forecast of the season from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Total production for 2019 is forecast at 422 million cwt., down 6% from 2018, according to the USDA.

The harvested acreage for 2019 is estimated at 938,900 acres, down 7% from 1.01 million acres last year.

The yield forecast, at 450 cwt. per acre, is up 7 cwt. compared with the 2018 crop.

The USDA said that growers in Idaho reported crop losses due to freezing temperatures in late September and early October, with several growers leaving potatoes in the ground to avoid the cost of harvest.

Washington growers, according to the agency, reported some quality concerns because of “soilborne issues and freeze damage at the end of the harvest season.”

Prolonged wet conditions in late September and early October hampered harvest in the Red River Valley in North Dakota.

The potato estimate put harvested acreage in North Dakota at 59,000 acres, down 19% compared with last year. Total output in North Dakota was 20.9 million cwt. down 12% compared with 2018. 

The Idaho potato crop is estimated at 133.9 million cwt., off about 6% from 141.8 million cwt. a year ago.

Effect on prices

In the agency’s Market News reports, prices for potatoes in mid-November were running well above year-ago levels.

The Idaho russet burbank price for 60-count 50-pound cartons was reported at $16-19, up from $8-9 per carton the same time a year ago.

In the Red River Valley of Minnesota and North Dakota, the USDA reported 50-pound cartons of size B round red potatoes were $23 to $25 on Nov. 13, up from $14 to $15 per carton the same time a year go.

Movement of potatoes reflected reduced output.

Total shipments of U.S. potatoes the week of Nov. 3-9 totaled 3.67 million 50-pound carton, down 23% from 4.74 million 50-pound cartons a year ago.

In addition, the USDA reported retail promotions of potatoes showed declines in the number of supermarket ads and an increase in average promoted prices.

For Nov. 8, the USDA reported round red potatoes were promoted by 299 retail stores, down from 1,034 stores promoting the same time a year ago. The average promoted price per pound for round red potatoes was 94 cents, up from 77 cents per pound a year ago.

The number of supermarket promotions for 10-pound bags or russet burbank potatoes totaled 1,322 on Nov. 8,  down 22% compared with 1,693 stores a year ago. The average promoted price for 10-pound bags of russet potatoes was reported at $2.91 on Nov. 8, up 7% from $2.72 a year ago.

Oct. 31
Perfect storm cuts Red River Valley fresh potato crop
By Tom Karst

A perfect storm of heavy rains followed by freezing cold weather will cut yields for the Red River Valley fresh potato crop in North Dakota and Minnesota nearly by half.

Potato harvest in Red River Valley was all but shut down Oct. 31, said Ted Kreis, marketing and communications director for the East Grand Fork, Minn.-based Northern Plain Potato Growers Association.

“We have had several days of freezing temperatures, probably taking care of anything that’s left out there,” he said Oct. 31. Industry estimates project the region may lose about half of the fresh crop.

“The best estimates are 45% to 55% (loss) but we will know more when we get all of our inventory counted up,” he said. Kreis speculated most potato sheds in the region may operate as normal perhaps into February. 

“Everybody’s got a different plan, but (shippers) are certainly going to be taking care of their best, long-standing customers first,” he said. Some sheds are operating at partial capacity, he said, and running only a few days a week.

The Red River Valley accounted for about 25% of the U.S. red potato production last year, so Kreis said the shortfall from the Red River Valley will push red potato prices higher across the country. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported 50-pound cartons of round red size B potatoes were $23-25.50 on Oct. 31, up from $14.50-16 per carton the same time a year ago. The region is less important for yellow potato production, but Kreis said yellow potato prices have moved higher in recent weeks as well.

Idaho cold

Mark Klompien, president and chief executive officer of the United Potato Growers of America, also said losses of the fresh potato crop in the Red River Valley are estimated by some sources in a range between 40% and 45%.

Idaho has been affected, too, he said, with about about 12% to 15% of the Idaho potato crop still in the ground when freezing cold weather hit in October, he said. Crop damage in Idaho was undetermined. 

“We have heard of some growers trying to dig and salvage some of those left, but obviously trying to sort/store those is very risky at best,” Klompien said in an e-mail.

The USDA reported prices of Idaho russet burbanks, size 60s, at $16-18 per carton on Oct. 31. That is about double from $8-9 per carton the same time a year ago.

Oct. 24
Mother Nature deals setbacks to Idaho, North Dakota spuds
By Tom Karst

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 saidPrices 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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