As a top potato growing state starts its 2019-2020 crop, growers in Idaho are hoping to lengthen the growing season as much as possible.
“We’ll start the new crop of potatoes on Monday of next week. Right now our preliminary digs show that, in terms of yield, we’re off significantly,” says Ryan Wahlen of Pleasant Valley Potato in Aberdeen, Id. “Our test digs on the first of August showed about a 30 percent reduction in total pounds compared to where we were last year. We’re seeing a reduction in both the tuber counts and in the pounds.”
Wahlen points to a cool spring and summer that’s in part affected the growing conditions for potatoes. “We had a wet April and the planting got delayed. Once the plants were in, they didn’t get the heat units they needed,” he says, noting this is concerning the Burbank and Norkotah potato crops. “We also had two frosts in June that set the crop back significantly. It’s just hard for the plants to fully recover from that.”
The crop is also behind by approximately a week from when it normally begins and the old crop finished late last week.
Meanwhile, demand has been good for potatoes. “In the last few months, the demand has exceeded the supply that’s been available,” says Wahlen. “That won’t continue indefinitely but it’s been good all summer.”
Compared to pricing in previous years, current pricing is rather strong. “The market right now on old crop is $19 on a 40-count. At this point last year, a 40-count was $10.50, a 50-count was $11 and a 60-count was $13,” says Wahlen. “Generally though, throughout the harvest, there’s some decline in pricing as more shippers begin to participate in the market. Right now, I don’t anticipate the pricing tailing off significantly just because the yield and size profile aren’t what they have been in the past.”
Looking ahead, he believes the market will stay strong. “We’re just hopeful that we can extend the growing season a little bit to improve the size profile, at least relative to what we’re seeing right now. But that’s really weather-dependent,” he says. “There are a few things we can do here at the end of the growing season to try and make up lost ground…but we can’t make all of it up.”