Heat Wave May Chill NW Potato Crop

Published online: Aug 19, 2014 Irrigation Lora Abcarian, The Produce News
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Potato growers in Oregon and Washington are in wait-and-see mode following a heat wave that hit the Pacific Northwest in July.

“Spring and early summer were excellent,” said Bill Brewer, executive director of the Oregon Potato Commission, in late July. “The last two weeks’ hot spell across Oregon may reduce potential fall harvest yield.”

“The weather conditions were absolutely perfect for the first half of the growing season, warm sunny days and cool nights,” said Chris Voigt, executive director of the Washington State Potato Commission. “Then the heat hit. During the first couple weeks of July, we experienced temperatures as high as 108 degrees. The plants just shut down during the day and stop growing.  It’s still too early to tell how this heat will impact the fall crop.”

Looking at the Northwest potato industry on a state-by-state basis, Oregon has a total of 38,000 acres planted to potatoes. Of this total, Brewer said 17 percent is planted to fresh potatoes, and he expects 2014 fresh volume to be comparable to last year’s production levels.

“The Klamath area may be down slightly,” Brewer stated.

Growers in the Klamath Basin slightly reduced acreage this season as a result of concern about water availability. “They should make it to harvest with adequate water,” he went on to say. “But it will be close at the end of season. Far eastern Oregon/Malheur County is extremely short on water. Acres were reduced and moved to locations closer to irrigation water sources. Most of the region will be out or extremely reduced of water by July 31.”

While onion production continues in the area, Brewer said there will be no fresh potatoes moving into the pipeline. “Some land was left idle this spring to lengthen season,” he commented.

Eighty percent of Oregon’s potatoes are marketed outside the state. “We estimate 50 percent are exported internationally,” Brewer said about key markets in Canada, Mexico and Korea. “We are continuing to conduct promotions in Vietnam and the Philippines.”

Turning to Washington, Ryan Holterhoff, director of marketing and industry affairs for WSPC, said, “The National Agricultural Statistics Service has given their 2014 acreage report and is estimating 165,000 acres planted throughout Washington State this year. We would anticipate that approximately 13-15 percent of that would go to the fresh market.”

Holterhoff went on to say, “Consistency is one of the greatest things about the crop in Washington state. Washington state potato growers have the highest yields in the world and historically have averaged around 60,000 pounds per acre. We would anticipate similar results this year as well.”

Generally speaking, Voigt said water problems have not affected Washington’s potato producers to date. “The majority of our potato crop is irrigated with surface water from the Columbia River,” he told The Produce News. “A lot of that water originates in British Columbia, and they experienced a good winter snowpack. Late spring snows in Washington State helped other growing regions in the state. Water supplies haven’t been too much of an issue this growing season. But we do continue to see declining water levels in the Odessa aquifer area that is concerning to the Columbia Basin.”

Exports are extremely important to Washington’s potato producers. “With the favorable location of our fields to Washington State’s international transportation ports in the Puget Sound, exports are critical to the yearly success of our state’s potato industry,” Holterhoff commented. “Over 90 percent of the crop will leave the state with a significant amount of that going internationally.  

Canada represents a very established market, and many of the countries through the Pacific Rim continue to offer great opportunities within that region.”


Source: The Produce News