Montana Increases Acres Dedicated To Growing Seed Potatoes

Published online: Oct 27, 2022 Articles, Seed Potatoes Jamie Henneman, agupdate.com
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The number of acres dedicated to growing seed potatoes in Montana has grown in the last year, as the 2022 harvest is valued at $70-$80 million.

With potato harvest right around the corner, Larry Krum, commodity services program manager for the Montana Department of Agriculture (MDA), said there has been growth in the seed potato sector.

“We saw an increase of 10,930 acres in seed potatoes in 2021 to 11,322 acres this year,” Krum noted. “We expect that yields this year will likely be down a small percentage across the board due to the cold, wet spring that didn’t allow the plants to provide a good cover for tuber development.”

In Montana, the majority of potatoes grown in the state are for seed that will be shipped to other areas, like Idaho and Washington’s Columbia Basin, in order to grow the potatoes sold at grocery stores and to processors. Potato growing areas in Montana include Townsend, Dillon, Ronan, Kalispel, Toston and Manhattan.

The Montana 2022 potato production is valued at $70-$80 million, solidifying the state as a leader in the production of potatoes and seed potatoes, according to Montana State University (MSU).

“In Montana, we grow early-generation potatoes, which means the potatoes harvested this fall will be put into storage until February and then shipped to places like Washington where they will be planted,” Krum explained.

Determining what potatoes may bring for prices this year is a fluid number, as most of the seed potatoes in Montana are grown under contract.

“About 95 percent of the potato acreage is grown under contract, so some of those prices are locked in, but a good base price for potatoes is around $16 per hundredweight and up to $24 per hundredweight for specialty varieties,” Krum related.

Potatoes grown in Montana include varieties like Russet Burbank, Purple Viking, Yukon and Reds.

To ensure that potatoes shipped from Montana are free of disease, the MDA has a certification program that ensures crop health through inspections and culling defects.

“The MDA has 28 inspectors around the state that inspect the potatoes to be stored and only allow for a certain number of defects,” Krum explained.

Potato Advisory Committee Calls For Proposals

Another way the MDA and other state entities ensure that the potato industry in Montana is healthy and growing is via research projects.

The Montana Potato Advisory Committee is seeking proposals for the Montana Potato Research & Market Development Program. Proposal topics generally address demonstration projects, applied research, and market development projects designed to address needs and opportunities for the Montana potato industry.

The committee has established research priorities for the 2022-23 funding cycle, including management of potato viruses and their vectors; stem and tuber diseases caused by fungi and bacteria (such as blackleg, scab, soft rot and ring rot); and weeds as alternate hosts for potato pathogens.

Staying on top of potential potato diseases is important, according to Nina Zidack of the MSU Potato Lab.

“There are a number of potato viruses and fungi that growers have to address, including Potato Virus Y, which is spread by aphids,” she explained. “One of the ways that MSU helps producers make sure their stock is healthy is by keeping and providing the ‘mother stock’ for all seed potato producers. Through our tissue culture program, we distribute to farmers so they can start disease-free.”

Questions and applications for the potato research and development program can be directed to Dani Jones at (406) 444-2402 or via e-mail at Danielle.Jones@mt.gov.