Potato Volume Dips, but Adequate Supplies Remain

Published online: Nov 19, 2018 Articles Tom Burfield
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Source: The Packer 

Potato supplies should be ample for the holidays and beyond, despite bad weather in some growing regions and an overall dip in production.

“Overall supplies should be slightly below last year. However, we could see an increase in winter and spring production,” said John Toaspern, chief marketing officer for Denver-based Potatoes USA.

For the July 2017 to June 2018 crop, the volume of fresh potato sales at retail was down 2%, but all other categories, such as chips and frozen, were up.

Toaspern anticipates an increase in demand at foodservice, retail and from export markets, but he said, “Supplies may be such that some of this demand is not fully met.”

Seasonal weather patterns have not been favorable for many potato growers, particularly in Wisconsin, Michigan and a few other spots across the country, said Ralph Schwartz, vice president of sales for Potandon Produce, Idaho Falls, Idaho.

Meanwhile, Colorado, Texas, Idaho and Washington were experiencing good-sized crops, he said.

Most of the harvesting was completed by late October.

“There are going to be some losses this year,” Schwartz said.

There has been “rain galore” in Michigan and Wisconsin and even some early season snow in North Dakota.

In Idaho, Schwartz said, potatoes were exhibiting a larger size profile out of the field than usual.

In late October, the Wisconsin harvest still was ongoing, said Tamas Houlihan, executive director of the Antigo-based Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association.

“This year may be the latest ever for potato harvest in our state,” he said.

A large portion of the crop may not be harvested because of excessive rain and cold temperatures late in the season, Houlihan said.

Overall, the state’s production could be down 10% to 15%, he said, which would mean a total production of just over 2.3 billion pounds — down from about 2.6 billion last year.

In Grand Forks, N.D., Black Gold Farms reduced its acreage slightly this year because the company had too many potatoes last year, said Keith Groven, fresh sales manager.

“We kind of right sized our acres for our business,” he said.

In late October, Groven said the harvest had been “a little bit longer than we like to see,” but he said yields and quality were good.

“We’re not seeing any significant quality problems,” he said. “Everything looks real solid.”

Black Gold Farms grows norland and dark norland potatoes for the early season, red potatoes for mid-season and the sangre variety for late season.

The company is growing a few more yellow potatoes because of customer requests.

“We’ve seen the yellow demand continue to increase every year,” Groven said.

Andreas Trettin, marketing director for Mountain King Potato, Monte Vista, Colo., was looking forward to the coming season, characterized by excellent quality and average yields.

“We’re excited about having a very successful marketing season, particularly on the varietals — like the yellows, the reds and the redskin yellows,” he said.

The company’s potatoes should be within the normal size range, and volume should be similar to last year, he said.

In Lake Wales, Fla., Mack Farms was beginning to plant for the 2019 season in late October, said Chandler Mack, vice president of operations.

The company will plant mostly red potatoes and some gold and white varieties until December.

Harvesting will start in early February.

“We’re the first area able to offer new potatoes to market,” he said.

Mack Farms does not ship out of storage.

“Ours is a fresh-dug potato,” Mack said.

Most South Florida potato growers will have about the same acreage as last year, Mack said.

Russet potatoes continue to be the variety most widely grown and sold in the U.S., Toaspern said, but they continue to decline at retail each year.

“We have seen steady growth in yellows, blue/purples and fingerlings, while reds have remained relatively flat and whites have declined somewhat,” he said.