Planning Ahead

Seed growers avert disaster through United

Published in the September 2009 Issue Published online: Sep 07, 2009 Seed Potatoes Paris Penfold, United Potato Growers of Idaho Seed District Chairman
Viewed 888 time(s)

SEED POTATO GROWERS IN MY AREA-and I believe the rest of the country-avoided disaster this past season thanks to our ability to legally communicate and coordinate the flow of our product to the market through market research by and membership in United Potato Growers of America and United Potato Growers of Idaho.

Last fall was a time of great confidence for seed growers as we were ready to embark on a year of profitability with balanced supplies ready to meet strong demand for seed potatoes. Unfortunately, the economy slowed down much more than anticipated, and many fry processors reduced the acreage they were willing to contract to levels lower than was indicated last summer. These events led to a number of commercial growers backing out of commitments for seed and even returning seed once they had lost their contracts.

Normally this high volume of seed cancellations would have created a disaster for seed growers, resulting from distressed sales of the sudden extra supply. Also, after-the-fact price discounts were given to customers who had purchased supplies early. Seed growers who are members of United avoided this artificial disaster by communicating with each other to service the "new" customers that at the end of the day ended up with the supply contracts for processors. Thanks to the trust seed growers placed in each other and by working together, the market stabilized at reasonable levels and seed growers did not lose equity in their farms as has been the case in these situations in the past.


United has given seed growers a better understanding of what is happening in the fresh and process markets. Given that seed growers must always anticipate what the market may be doing in one, two or even three years in order to have the right varieties in the right quantities available for commercial growers, this market data has given seed growers more control over their destiny.

Even with the strides that growers have made by using the forums and tools that United makes possible, seed growers still face considerable individual risk with their own operations. As testing of seed and international trade increases, there is an ever expanding list of pests that are noticed and regulated. Seed growers are at the tip of this regulatory spear to isolate and quarantine farms until more information is known about the distribution of newly classified pests.

Growers throughout North America need to work with their governments and associations to make sure an indemnification program for seed growers is established for a stronger industry. Such a program would encourage seed growers to continue to invest in innovative varieties while allowing the commercial industry and government to take aggressive actions to minimize trade disruptions or increased costs that may or may not be associated with pests that become a new concern.