Grower Q&A: Randy Hardy, Oakley Packing, Oakley, Idaho

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Looking at Crops and Congress
The potato growing season is well under way and growers are watching their fields and the sky cautiously. The seed situation had some growers looking for a seed source, and the weather has set some regions back up to two weeks. Other potato-growing areas are ahead of schedule and looking forward to a good crop.

Uncertainty about the weather is nothing new for farmers, but the industry today is faced with greater pressure from all around. The falling dollar means new markets as well as rising input costs; nematode presence can spell disaster for a farm; and retail, foodservice and government customers are increasingly demanding Good Agricultural Practices and audits.

But there’s good news this season, too. The 2008 Farm Bill includes $1.3 billion in provisions for specialty crops and expands the food stamp and school snack programs. Assuming the Farm Bill survives a veto threatened by President Bush, the potato industry will benefit from research and education grants and other programs that will increase Americans’ access to fruits and vegetables. The $286 billion five-year budget – and $600 billion over 10 years – is unprecedented in its access to small farmers and specialty crop growers. The potato industry’s voice has been heard by Congress and, should the bill prevail, growers will benefit from all their hard work.

Grower Q&A
Randy Hardy,
Oakley Packing, Oakley, Idaho
How’s the season shaping up for Idaho growers?
Not worth a darn. Cold, cold, cold.

I’ve seen cold Aprils and dry Aprils, but I’ve never seen cold and dry Aprils before. Everything’s way behind. Washington starts earlier than we do, so the cold weather has affected them more directly. Rexburg (in eastern Idaho) is just now getting going. They didn’t get the ground going and getting planted until now – they’ve still had snow cover.

It froze this morning again, now they’re telling us 85º F by Sunday, which is really warm for this time of year.

Did you have any trouble getting your fields planted?
We didn’t have any weather hold up that way (in planting), but we had to irrigate the fields and we were putting seed under cover, that type of thing. Just a lot of hassles, and man, the wind.

So you’re having to irrigate the fields already? What does the water situation look like for the summer in Idaho?
The snowpack is still in the mountains. We haven’t had the warm weather to bring it down. SNOTEL (the computer-monitoring system) shows the highest snowpack for this time of year, but that’s just because it’s been so cold it hasn’t melted yet.

The state hydrologist is telling us the snowpack is still there and we’ll be in good shape for water, but the locals are saying it’s going to be an interesting year. It’s just been the strangest year I’ve ever experienced. I just can’t believe how many extremes we still see every year.

It’s going to be far from an ideal growing season. To irrigate the potato ground before the start of the season is something I haven’t seen. We’re cautiously optimistic. We think acreage is down and with the cold temperature we’re cautiously optimistic. TEXT


Market Report
Potatoes from the 2008 season are moving steadily out of Florida and the Kern District of California according to USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service.

Prices for 2008 red potatoes from Florida are slightly lower than the same week in 2007. For the week ending May 10, size A round reds in 50-pound sacks were selling between $10.55 and $12.55 and size B potatoes were selling $16.55 and $18.55, with both $1 to $2 less than the same time in 2007. Round white potatoes from Florida are trading much lower than the same week in 2007, with size A 50-pound cartons going for $14.05 to $16.05 for the week ending May 10, compared to the 2007 prices of $16.95 to $26.95. Size B round whites were selling for $12.05 to $16.05 for the 2008 crop, which is $5 to $8 lower than the same week in 2007.

Kern County, Calif., shipped more potatoes for the week ending May 10 than the same week in 2007, but the trading price is also about $2 lower than the 2007 crop. Fifty-pound cartons of size A reds were trading between $12.45 and $14.55 and size B reds were trading between $13.45 and $16.55. The prices for the 2007 crop were about $2 higher for size A reds and $2 to $3 higher for size B reds for the same week in May.

Yellow size A potatoes from the Kern district were selling at $18.45 to $20.55 for a 50-pound carton and size B yellow potatoes were trading for $14.45 to $16.55. During that same week in 2007, size A yellow potatoes were selling for $30.45 and size B potatoes were selling for $20.45 per 50-pound carton.


Brothers-All-Natural Potato Crisps
PICTURE Fruit and vegetable processing company Brothers International Food Corp. has introduced a new healthy freeze-dried potato chip.

Brothers All-Natural Potato Crisps are sold in single-serve packs for a nutritious, on-the-go snack. The crisps are fat-free and preservative-free and contain no nuts, gluten, soy or dairy products. The company also said the potatoes used to make the crisps are not genetically modified and are both vegan and kosher.

The Potato Crisps will be available in four flavors: Original with Sea Salt, Black Pepper and Sea Salt, Szechuan Pepper and Fresh Chives and Fresh Onion and Garlic.

Costco, Whole Foods and Disney Theme Parks will carry the Potato Crisps, which will retail between 75 cents and $1.19 for a single-serve bag. The freeze drying process locks in most of the natural nutrients and reduces calories. One half-cup serving of Potato Crisps has only 35 to 45 calories.