Wisconsin Potato Outlook Rebounds After Rough Start

Published online: Aug 09, 2018 Articles Tom Karst
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Source: The Packer  

With cool and wet weather in April and May, unseasonably hot weather around Memorial Day and dry weather in July, Mother Nature has given Wisconsin potato growers a challenging season.

But balancing all the factors, suppliers anticipated a near average crop for 2018.

“We’ve had some areas that did better than otherwise,” said Tamas Houlihan, executive director of the Antigo-based Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Association.

For example, he said the Antigo region in the north wasn’t as behind schedule as growers in central and southern Wisconsin. Growers in the northern part of the state finished up planting the first week of June.

Conditions in other parts of the state were variable and overall yields could be a little bit below average based on challenging weather conditions. Size profiles could be down in some areas because of dry conditions and heat stress.

But there is plenty of time left in the season, he said.

“We still got the whole month of August and you’ve got the whole harvest season in September and October.”

Houlihan said the state has about 110 potato farmers, who together grow about 63,000 acres of potatoes.

“We are the third-largest potato producing state and we will have a crop of anywhere from 25 million to 28 million cwt., depending on how the yields come out,” he said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that fresh shipments of Wisconsin potatoes in calendar year 2017 totaled 7.3 million cwt., while chipper potato shipments were 6.69 million cwt. and seed potato shipments were 1.635 million cwt.

The USDA said Wisconsin organic fresh potato shipments totaled 45,000 cwt.

 Shipper report

Growing regions got two to three feet of snow in the middle of April, said Mike Carter, CEO of Bushmans’ Inc., Rosholt, Wis. That delayed planting and caused the crop to fall behind normal.

“I can’t say that it’s caught up to whatever normal is now and so I think it’s a little bit behind, but with that said, it’s looking good,” Carter said in late July.

“I think the question is what we get for weather here over the next few weeks.”

Carter said Wisconsin potato acreage appears about the same as 2017.

Russet harvest from Bushmans’ was expected to begin the first week of August, with some red potatoes already on the market in late July.

“We’re just getting started with our first new crop reds and we’re going to be starting new crop russet and yellows in a few weeks,” said Kevin Wright, director of sales for RPE Inc., Bancroft, Wis.

“Overall the crop looks very, very good and we are pretty excited about the quality,” he said. “We are pretty optimistic.”

Growing in the central sands part of the state, he said overall acreage is similar to last year, he said.

Snow during planting time and feast or famine for rain has made it an unusual growing season,” said Andy Diercks, vice president of Coloma Farms Inc., Coloma, Wis.

In one 3½-week stretch, the central sands growing regions had just four-tenths of an inch of rain.

“I don’t think anybody is expecting more than maybe slightly above average at this point,” he said.

“There’s certainly some issues around from guys cutting seed and then waiting three or four weeks to get planted, but I think we’re looking at a pretty average yield and quality crop at this point,” he said.

Early on in the season, crop progress had been as much as 10-12 days late, but warmer weather has largely caught the crop up, Diercks said, noting harvest is only a couple of days behind normal.

Harvest of superior white potatoes will start in early August, Diercks said, with reds and yellows in the two weeks after that. There won’t be any significant volume of russet potatoes until the latter part of the second week of August, he said.

Harvest will continue to about Oct. 10, with most active harvesting from Sept. 10 to Oct. 10.

Colored varieties will be harvested the week of Aug. 6, with russets expected by the week of Aug. 13 or Aug. 20, said Dick Okray, president of Okray Family Farms, Plover, Wis.

Acreage is fairly steady with a year ago, he said, with Okray seeing a small increase in yellow acreage and a reduction in red potato acreage.

Mini tubers are increasingly popular and catching a big premium, Okray said.

In 2017, fall potato acreage in Wisconsin was estimated at 60,000 acres, down 5,000 acres from 2016. According to the USDA, the percentages of fall potatoes planted in 2017 in Wisconsin by type were:

  • Russet, 49%, compared with 56% in 2016;
  • White, 38%, compared with 34% in 2016;
  • Red, 9%, compared with 8% in 2016; and
  • Yellow, 4%, compared with 2% in 2016.