Idaho Growers Expect Strong Crop Quality

Published online: Oct 29, 2018 Articles, Potato Harvesting
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Source: The Packer 

The Idaho fresh potato crop features strong quality and a mix of sizes for 2018, with Russet Norkotahs tending toward larger sizes and Russet Burbanks showing a mix of sizes.

Industry leaders reported increased acreage for processing but reduced acreage for fresh market potatoes.

“I’ve been all over the state the last few weeks. And I tell you that the quality looks really good this year,” said Travis Blacker, industry relations director for the Idaho Potato Commission.

The majority of Idaho potatoes have been harvested under ideal conditions, said Steve Elfering, vice president of operations for Potandon Produce LLC, Idaho Falls, Idaho.

Rain in mid-October and temperatures forecast as low as 18 degrees on Oct. 14 could pressure late harvested fields. About 10 to 15 percent of the crop, mainly in the north end of growing regions, remained to be harvested as of Oct. 11, Elfering said.

“Quality seems to be good but there is kind of a mix of sizes,” said Joe Esta, vice president of Wada Farms Marketing Group LLC, Idaho Falls.

“We’ve got good size in russet burbanks and some lots that are a bit smaller, but I think size is going to be about an average burbank crop,” Esta said. “Norkotah seems to be slightly bigger this year, and we had really good growing conditions this summer with the heat.”

Russet Norkotahs are typically marketed in heavier volume than Burbanks through January, after which time shippers transition to burbanks, Elfering said.

The trick for shippers will be to balance both varieties to meet demand, he said.

Jill Cox, sales manager and partner with Sun-Glo of Idaho Inc., Sugar City, Idaho, reported average yields and a medium size profile. 

“There is not a lot of of 40s and 50s, which is music to my ears on the sales desk,” Cox said.

Market outlook

The increased processing demand and reduced fresh acres could set up a firm price year for potatoes, he said, especially after the first of the year.

“(Processing demand) will take a lot of fresh supply off the market, so I would expect we will see a nice return to the grower this year,” Elfering said.

Demand from processors keeps increasing, Cox said.

“Some of those growers have kind of jumped to that (processing side), so fresh acreage is less. I think we’re setting ourselves up for a pretty good year.”

Lamb Weston is adding a new potato processing line and McCain is opening up a new plant near Burley, Esta said.

Holiday demand for russet potatoes could receive an added push because damage to the North Carolina sweet potato crop was uncertain, Esta said.

While damage is reported variable in North Carolina sweet potato fields, some growing regions saw damage of 30 to 40 percent, Esta said.

The topic of how North Carolina’s crop loss could change holiday demand for russets is a topic of discussion in Idaho, said Ralph Schwartz, vice president of sales and category management for Potandon Produce LLC.