Published online: Nov 05, 2011 Seed Potatoes
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New statistics show processing of the 2011 potato crop is up dramatically from the previous year in Idaho and Malheur County, Ore.

Through Oct. 1, the National Agricultural Statistics Service reported a combined 13.3 million cwt of potatoes were processed in Idaho and Malheur County, a 75 percent increase from the 2010 crop. Idaho processors used 9.46 million cwt.

Processors elsewhere in Oregon and in Washington used an estimated 16.4 million cwt of raw 2011 potatoes by Oct. 1, up 16 percent.

Industry sources attribute the numbers mostly to a bumper crop in 2009 spilling into the 2010 processing season and a short supply of 2010 crops forcing early harvests in 2011.

"It's definitely indicative of the long crop two years ago and the fact that we had a lot more early acres this year, as many as they could get," said Dan Hargraves, executive director of the Southern Idaho Potato Cooperative.

NASS statistician Brad Early added, "Probably the biggest factor is this summer, we didn't have very many old crop potatoes in storage into August, whereas last year there were a lot of 2009 potatoes in storage."

As of the week ending Oct. 23, 95 percent of Idaho's crop had been harvested, NASS reported.

Frank Muir, president and chief executive officer of the Idaho Potato Commission, sees evidence that increased demand is also fueling business at the processing plants. Muir noted that processors contracted for 25,000 more acres of Idaho potatoes this year than in 2010.

"Their inventories were eaten down last year because of a smaller supply," Muir said. "There's some acceleration (in processors) trying to rebuild those inventories."

Muir said it doesn't hurt that "it looks like it could be one of the best quality crops we've had in several years."

Hargraves believes demand for processed potatoes bottomed out and is now slowly growing.

"You can talk to any of those (processors) and their export business is up, their french fry business is up and they're having good growth," Hargraves said.

It's also good news for growers, Hargraves said, that Idaho processors all still need potatoes. Yields in the Magic Valley and southwestern Idaho, where fryers have most of their acres contracted, have been average to below average, Hargraves said. In eastern Idaho, yields have been much higher.

"They were very active in buying open potatoes in August, and I think we'll see that continue," Hargraves said.

American Falls grower Jim Tiede, chairman of the IPC, had yields this year of 10 percent above the five-year average. After filling his contracts, he sold the excess to Simplot and Lamb Weston. As processors continue buying potatoes on the open market, fresh prices should also benefit, Tiede said.

"I think the growers are going to have a good year again," he said. "We've got a great crop."

Spokesmen for processors could not be reached for comment.

SOURCE: Capital Press