Grower Q&A: Brian Sackett

Market Report

Chinese Chefs Learn About U.S. Potatoes for Olympics
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Singling out Surveys
U.S. potato growers planted fewer potato acres than in any year in the last half-century, according to USDA. The 929,100 planted acres is 81,500 acres fewer than last season.

But as acreage has been reduced, yields have increased over the last few years. Weather may reduce yields of the 2008 crop in some growing areas, but there’s still work to be done in matching supply with demand.

One way to do that is to have the best, most accurate data to forecast regional and national potato supplies. The accuracy of USDA’s numbers have been brought into question this season, and the state-wide survey conducted by United Potato Growers of Idaho sets the planted acres at a verifiable 300,266 acres – a 12 percent reduction from 2007-2008.

Seven teams used field maps to visually survey 122,000 Idaho fields from the ground or air. Their findings were then audited to ensure the data was correct. This type of survey is costly and takes considerable manpower and time, but Idaho growers now have better information to market their crop.

Some in the industry are working to improve methods for compiling production data rather than wait for USDA to catch up. If United of Idaho’s survey were conducted in other potato-growing regions, we would be well on our way to a more stable potato market with less chance of supply shortages and pricing confusion.

Grower Q&A
Brian Sackett,
Sacket Potatoes, Mecosta, Mich.
How is the season shaping up for you so far?
Everything looks pretty good. We’ve had pretty good weather so far so we’re in good shape.

Did the storms that rolled through a few weeks ago hit you?
We missed all those – we haven't had any real bad weather.

Are you irrigating the crop?
We’re watering really heavy. It’s dry and hot so we’re having to put down a lot of water. All of our fields are irrigated and we’re watering them all.

How many acres of potatoes are you growing this season and what varieties?
We have about 3,000 acres of potatoes, all irrigated. Everything’s chipping varieties so they’re all under contract and set. We also grow seed corn – we have about 1,000 acres of corn – and a few peas. We’ve got about 5,600 acres, all irrigated.

Have you had any disease or pest pressure?
No disease pressure. We’re having some potato beetle issues. We keep building up some resistance to Admire, so we’re having to deal with beetles a little bit.

Are you expecting a good yield?
It’s hard to tell right now. If there’s no bad weather and it doesn’t get too hot we should have a pretty good crop this year.

When will the harvest start?
We usually start shipping the fresh crop around the Aug. 10 and storage crop around Sept. 12. TEXT


Market Report
The value of U.S. agricultural exports is up 45 percent over 2007, according to USDA’s Economic Research Service. The value of ag exports jumped nearly $13 billion in fiscal year 2007 to nearly $82 billion. Fiscal year 2008 is on track to beat that by a wide margin. Year-to-date U.S. producers have shipped $77.5 billion in agricultural products, about $24 billion more than at this time last year. The strong export market also gives the United States a $24.4 billion trade balance so far this year.

Fresh vegetable export values are up about 4 percent over last with a value of about $1.1 billion. Prepared and processed vegetable product export values are up 24 percent over 2007, and increased 5 percent from March to April, according to the most recent ERS data released in July.

Export volume of fresh vegetables has remained steady, with only a 3 percent increase over 2007. Prepared and processed product volume has jumped 25 percent over last year to 1.5 million metric tons.

Potato export values have increased 4 percent a month since February and now total $94.1 million. The bulk of the exported potatoes and potato products go to Japan, which increased 10 percent from 2007, and Canada, up 20 percent over last year. Frozen french fries exports have increased in the international market as well, with the 1.4 million cwt. shipped in April about 33 percent higher than the three-year April average. Both tablestock and chip exports dipped slightly this spring, but both segments are ahead of this time last year, with chips valued at $60 million and fresh tablestock at $37 million.

The product benefiting the most from the export market is sorghum grain, with a 106 percent increase in volume over last year to 4.8 million metric tons shipped. Wheat and corn products have seen large increases in terms of value, with wheat up 148 percent from fiscal year 2007 to $7 billion and corn export values up to $7.9 billion, up 55 percent from last year.


Chinese Chefs Learn About U.S. Potatoes for Olympics
PICTURE USDA’s Agricultural Trade Office in Beijing held the 2008 Olympic Chef Training Project in partnership with the Beijing Olympic Committee (BOC) to train local chefs in Western food preparation. The week-long project included a theory day and hands-on training day in three categories: hot dishes, cold dishes and baking.

Training alternated between the BOC-designated Mengxi Hotel and Metro Training Kitchen in Beijing. Chef instructors from the United States, Switzerland and China provided short courses in food preparation using products from USDA’s Market Development Cooperator co-sponsors. Nearly 120 participants from two- and three-star Olympic designated hotels and local restaurants were trained in support of a successful 2008 Beijing Olympics foodservice using Western kitchen cooking and sanitation methods and recipes featuring U.S. food products and ingredients. The United States Potato Board was one of five U.S. cooperators that participated in the seminar.

Chefs learned how to prepare and specialty-cut potato products during the demonstrations, including crisscut, crinkle wedge, regular wedge, triangle hash brown, crinkle cut, potato skin and shoestring fry products.

U.S. frozen potatoes also acted as a side-dish demonstration dishes during the hot-dish sessions. Demo chefs highlighted the specialty cuts from the United States and put fried potatoes in various presentations depending on the cuttings.