Published online: Oct 21, 2011
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ABERDEEN, Idaho-Aberdeen grower and USPB board member Ritchey Toevs is pleased with the quality of his potatoes and estimates yields will be 10 percent higher than last year, when a killing frost occurred in September.

Typically, Toevs said he looks for yields of between 375 and 400 cwt per acre. "And these are maybe 425," Toevs said, walking through a field with exposed rows of hefty Umatilla Russets. "The size is a surprise. We didn't expect to see the size of this crop."

As Idaho growers wrap up their potato harvests, they're reporting mixed results. Most agree, however, that disappointing fresh market prices now being offered should rebound in coming weeks.

The state report on potato yields and sizes is scheduled for release on Nov. 9.

"I'm not hearing a universal high yield across the state. I'm hearing it's more mixed," said Frank Muir, president of the Idaho Potato Commission.

A National Agricultural Statistics Service report shows 85 percent of Idaho's potatoes had been harvested as of Oct. 17, slightly above the average for the date, and "harvest in eastern Idaho has been spotty due to wet field conditions."

Brian Wada, a Pingree farmer with 9,000 acres of spuds, completed his harvest late on Oct. 15.

"I would say our yields were variable. Overall, I think our yields are going to come out at a little below average," Wada said, adding quality and size are about average.

Despite weather delays, American Falls grower Jim Tiede, dug up all of his potatoes by Oct. 14 without losing any to frost damage.

"They finished up quite well, a little bigger than average size and slightly above the yield curve," said Tiede, who believes yields will vary by variety and location.

Fresh market prices have plummeted in recent weeks, as growers have flooded the market with their potatoes. According to the Agricultural Marketing Service, a 50-pound carton of 70-count U.S. One Norkotahs sold for about $22 on the week ending Aug. 20. As of Oct. 15, price had dropped to $8 per carton.

"Everybody was trying to capture good prices. It probably put pressure on them to come down a little bit further," Muir said. "All indications from my perspective are we have just the right sized crop this year."

Muir said more acres of potatoes were planted this year, but those have mostly gone to processors.

Wada, who sells some potatoes on the fresh market, said with returns at or below the cost of production, growers are going to be conservative in how they market their crop.

"Hopefully we'll see the market stabilize and get this fresh price back to where it needs to be at," he said.

Tiede, chairman of the IPC, believes Thanksgiving holiday sales will give the fresh market a boost soon.

"The fresh market slipped a little bit, but I think it will strengthen as we finish and get into more orderly marketing here," Tiede said.

SOURCE: John O'Connell, Capital Press