Idaho Growers Optimistic about Market

Published online: Jun 20, 2018 Articles
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Source: Fresh Plaza
Idaho potato growers are optimistic about the season ahead, given the ideal growing conditions the state has experienced. Harvest is still a month away, with the western part of the state beginning first, before gradually transitioning eastwards. This is mainly because the eastern part experiences later frost days and therefore growers plant later.
"Harvest is expected to commence in Idaho in the middle of July," said Colin Gibson of 20/20 Produce Sales. "The western part of the state will begin first as they have more heat units than the eastern part and therefore growers plant earlier. They are usually about three to four weeks ahead of eastern Idaho. They also grow more Norkotahs which take 90 days to grow, as opposed to Burbanks which take 120 days. This is a beautiful thing about the state, with the gradual progress of the crop as it migrates east throughout the season."
Gibson noted that weather conditions have been very favorable, with temperate conditions and just a moderate amount of rain. "It's been a great growing season thus far and there are a lot of nice looking potatoes in the fields right now," he said. "It was a little bit wet at the start, but now sufficient heat has been present, while still being mild and not too hot."
"We estimate that there may be an increase in acreage this year," Gibson continued. "There have been no official reports to suggest that yet, but the tighter seed availability indicates that there may have been more plantings this year."
Colin Gibson and son Telly
Market to increase as inventories diminish
It's approaching the time of year when potato supplies start to be limited. Last season's crop has almost been exhausted, and the market is waiting for new supplies to replenish stocks. As a result, prices have climbed in recent months and are set to increase further before the harvest begins. 
"There is only one main variety left now and that is the Russet Burbank," Gibson observed. "Norkotahs should be completed by May. The market has been climbing incrementally in recent months as we are expecting a strain on the supply side. Prices are currently sitting between $14 - $14.50, which is up from $11 three months ago. We predict that it will climb a further three dollars before the harvest begins and volume pushes prices down again."
Growers have been working through some other issues, including grading and freight, with mixed results. Grading for example, has been more difficult this year due to conditions experienced towards the end of harvest last season. "We have had to grade more vigorously because towards the end of harvest last season, abnormally cold and wet conditions meant that some of the potatoes were stored in less-than-ideal condition," Gibson noted. "Some growers are seeing a generally low pack-out percentage as a result due to greater instances of shatter bruising and air checking." 
Meanwhile, the high cost of freight has eased recently as drivers get used to E-logs. "Transportation seems to have calmed down," he added. "There are still a limited amount of trucks around, but it's much better than it was earlier in the year. The extension has helped as drivers seem to have sorted out the E-log situation."
Gibson's son Alan inspects the fields
Push for Norkotah potatoes this year
In Idaho, there has been an increased interest amongst growers to favor the Norkotah potato at the expense of the Burbank. As costs climb and growers look to keep up with consumer trends, the Norkotah is becoming more appealing. There are some clear distinctions, including the reduced growing time as well as the higher resilience to degradation.
"There seems to be a big push towards the Norkotah," Gibson explained. "One of the advantages is that it only takes 90 days to grow. As a result, growers can turn it around quicker and get it into the market. There is evidence of this right now, as when the early Norkotah potatoes commence harvesting in a month's time, they will be entering a market in short supply and hungry for the new crop, meaning they will attract good prices."
"Additionally, not only does it take less time to grow a Norkotah they also attain a much higher pack-out percentage, especially on the #1 grade," he continued. "Then there is the appearance. Norkotahs tend to have a blockier appearance than the Burbank, which for some reason appeals to consumers more."