Published online: Oct 03, 2011 Potato Storage, Potato Harvesting
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Potato production in Idaho was down 15 percent in 2010 from the previous year, driving a roughly 25 percent increase in the average price received by Gem State farmers, according to the final estimates on the year's spud crop, released Sept. 29.

Nationally, the report revised 2010 potato production to 404 million cwt, down 7 percent from 2009 but a 2 percent increase from the estimate made in the January crop production summary.
The new report also reflected a sharp increase in Idaho's fresh potato prices in 2010, $9.55 per cwt up from $4.25 during the previous year.

"The most interesting thing to me is we produced the smallest crop since 1989, but we had a record high price and value of production," said Brad Early, agricultural statistician with the USDA National Agriculture Statistics Service in Boise.

The new report also includes the first complete breakdown of how the potato crop was utilized nationally. Evidencing the heightened demand for the 2010 crop, 593,000 cwt of spuds were sold last year for livestock feed. In 2009, 6,533,000 cwt of potatoes went to livestock feed.

"In a short crop year that's one thing that's obvious. You don't have as many potatoes going into an off-grade market," Paul Patterson, University of Idaho extension economist, said of the reduction in feed potatoes. "That's sort of a market of last resort, which is an indicator of a surplus of potatoes or poor quality of potatoes."

Early added that in 2009 "we had a lot of potatoes that would have been sold fresh but the market was so poor they diverted them for livestock."

The quantity of potatoes used for making chips rose significantly in 2010, up to 54,692,000 cwt from 42,548,000. For growers in Idaho and throughout the Pacific Northwest, Patterson said chips don't represent a substantial market by percentage, but they're important in terms of the stable prices they provide.

The quantity of dehydrated spuds and frozen french fries both decreased. Dehydrated dropped to 34,130,000 cwt from 44,477,000 cwt; fries dropped to 135,557,000 cwt from 138,589,000 cwt. Early attributes the reduction in those products to the smaller size of the total crop.

Britt Raybould, spokeswoman for United Potato Growers of Idaho, noted in addition to the reduction in acres planted, weather also contributed to reduced yields in 2010.

"Idaho as a whole was below trend-line yield," Raybould said. "We're looking at similar weather conditions to what we had in 2010-a late spring put the crop two weeks behind. There's a possibility we could have another year where yields could be below trend line."

Looking forward, Patterson is optimistic about the 2011 crop.

"There should not be a surplus of potatoes this year, so there is no reason that growers should not realize a pretty good price year," Patterson said.

SOURCE: John O'Connell, Capital Press