Weather, water prompt early Idaho spud harvest

Published online: Aug 29, 2013
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Idaho potato growers starting early harvests say yields appear to be about average, and most are pleased by the size profile and quality of their crops.

Several growers throughout the state have begun their early harvests a few days ahead of the usual schedule, motivated by limited water supplies and the opportunity to capture high prices before the general harvest floods the market.

Many growers now digging spuds for processing haven't bothered to kill vines to toughen skins since their potatoes will be processed immediately.

Blackfoot, Idaho, grower Doyle Hawker dug the early processing variety California white from a field in Pingree Aug. 27 on green vines to supply Idahoan Foods.

"It's just a good, average crop. The size is comparable to other years," Hawker said.

Hawker knows of Russet Norkotah fields that died early but have produced favorable yields and size, nonetheless. He plans to kill Alturas and Russet vines on Sept. 1 to harvest three weeks later.

Corey Steidley, western regional sales manager for Spudnik Equipment in Blackfoot, said growers on the Fort Hall Indian Reservation were "digging hard" by late August, and a few growers in Aberdeen and American Falls had started digging. USDA listed the price of 5- and 10-pound mesh sacks of non-size A Russet Norkotahs out of the Twin Falls-Burley district on Aug. 27 at $9.50-$11.50, mostly $9.50-$11.

"There are a few guys who are probably pushing (harvest) three to four days earlier to get on this market," Steidley said.

He said other growers killed vines early due to tight water supplies.

"If I were a betting man, I'd say we're going to have a pretty decent crop, but until we start digging the Burbanks, nobody knows," Steidley said.

Shelley, Idaho, grower Bart Wattenbarger is going to start digging spuds from green vines for processing on Sept. 3.

"Those able get the water to them are going to have a good crop. Our size profile in the Shelley area seems be pretty good," Wattenbarger said. "I think yield is down a little bit just because the heat was so long this year."

Blackfoot grower Dillon Van Orden started digging Norkotahs on Aug. 22. He said strong prices enticed him to harvest about 10 days ahead of schedule. His yields appear average, and the spuds are smooth-skinned, have a good shape and a favorable size profile.

"This warm summer has kind of sped everything up. Being able to capitalize on this market while it's decent has also been a big driver on this," Van Orden said. "Right now, we're seeing some good returns."

Wilder, Idaho, grower Doug Gross also started his early Norkotah harvest a few days ahead of schedule because "prices were good, and we felt like we needed to capture that."

Gross said his regular harvest will begin on Sept. 5, about six days early because certain fields will run out of irrigation water.

"We'll be caring into the yields a little bit on the earlier digging stuff, and after that it should be more normal," Gross said.

He's heard of some growers who had poor tuber size due to heat, but his yields have been average, and his size quality have been above average.