Oregon Crop Looking Good Despite Water Concerns

Published online: Aug 06, 2018 Articles Keith Loria
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Source: The Packer

As potato growers in Oregon prepared for harvest, the Oregon Potato Commission was looking forward to a successful year with a high-quality crop.

“The production in Oregon this year is probably going to be similar to what it has been in the past,” said Bill Brewer, the commission’s executive director. “We’ve got a little bit of a shift where the production is taking place.”

Part of that shift is taking place in southern Oregon near the California border, where Brewer said production has decreased slightly.

“That production is fresh table stock and a little bit of chip potatoes,” he said. “There’s no French fry production in the Klamath along that California border. Now the shift has been moving to along the Washington border in the lower Columbia Basin, and I believe there’s a few new acres on the Oregon side there, and that will be for French fry production.”

Brewer attributed the shift to several factors, including new processing plants in the Columbia Basin, and Lamb Weston building a new facility in the Hermiston area.

“Our international exports have been up over the last several years, hopefully that continues,” he said. “International markets have contributed to additional demand for French fries.”

Another factor is a large farm in Oregon where potatoes were grown years ago, and which was converted to raising trees. That space is now being converted back to a vegetable farm.

“That’s some additional acres available,” Brewer said. “And with the demand that we have internationally, our processers are trying to fill that demand, and having that land available will help fill that demand.”

He added that early harvest has begun and that potatoes will be harvested in Oregon consistently until November, and that planting in the Klamath region was completed in early June, and that those potatoes are in their early stages.

“Everything I’ve heard from that area is that they have a really good crop coming,” Brewer said. “I’ve seen the potatoes in the rest of the state of Oregon and things look really nice right now. We haven’t had any major issues with climate or other conditions, so I believe Oregon is going to have a very nice, quality of crop.”

The breakdown for potatoes in Oregon is 13 percent table stock, which is mostly russets with some reds and yellows, 7 percent chip potatoes, and the rest being processed russets or russet types.

Brewer said the tri-state development program, in conjunction with Idaho and Washington, is seeing some new russet varieties that could be released soon.

“They have a lot of potential but they’re not actually in the market yet,” he said. “Our program is doing a lot of good work; it’s just that it takes a lot of time to get from the research to the market, but I believe we have some really good varieties coming that show some resistance to some of the pests that are causing problems, so eventually I think we’re going to have some really nice processed varieties that are introduced to the market but that’s down the road.”

Other news is related to exports, as 65 percent of potatoes grown in those three states is exported internationally, and should once again include South Korea.

“Our international markets are extremely important, and this year Oregon, Washington and Idaho have been approved to re-open the Korean table stock market,” Brewer said. “That’s exciting to us. It was opened and then it was closed because of a pest and now we’ve negotiated and come to an agreement with Korea about re-opening that market. That really could be a nice market for Oregon, Washington and Idaho, and our Oregon growers are looking forward to that.”

In regard to challenges, Brewer said the biggest facing Oregon involves water.

“Across the state, it’s either lack of water, the lack of storage, the lack of rain fall or winter snows, or all of the different groups that want a share of the water that is available,” Brewer said. “I’d say water is the biggest issue we have in raising a good crop of potatoes.”

Lack of rain is one of the factors leading to water concerns.

“A lot of water is stored one way or the other,” Brewer said. “It’s either stored in reservoirs or stored in wells, so all those wells have to be recharged, and they’re recharged through rainfall or snowfall and then as far as what’s available, it depends on how much moisture has accumulated,”

For example, he said the Columbia River is a major source of water, and that potato growers are limited as to how much water they can withdraw from the river.

“If we can figure out ways to increase the amount of water we can withdraw from the Columbia River, then there’s additional land that would be available to produce potatoes and a lot of other crops, but it’s a long process,” Brewer said.

Other areas, including Baker County in Eastern Oregon, have limited storage for water.

“They’re hurting right now because they didn’t have the winter snows to fill it,” Brewer said.

“The Klamath County area is very similar, they had a little bit more percentage of water, but it’s all limited as to how much they can withdraw,” Brewer added.