Grower Q&A: Lisa Shafel, Sunnydale Farms

Market Report

Eagle Poppers!
Is your harvest progressing on schedule?

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Weighing the Harvest Season
Harvest is well under way in the major potato-growing areas after a cold, wet spring caused some delays. The weather fouled up potato production in Colorado by way of a hailstorm that damaged 4,000 acres of potatoes – to the tune of nearly $32 million, according to the Pueblo (Colo.) Chieftan newspaper. The East Coast has had favorable conditions, but Hurricane Ike – the third named storm in as many weeks – dropped excess rain during harvest in the Midwest and East Coast.

Assuming yields on average with past few years, there should be a tighter supply of potatoes. This should help to keep prices higher for the fresh market and storage potatoes and should dampen the price fluctuations during crop transitions.

Coinciding with the industry’s effort to manage supply, the various associations, supported by growers, are working to address the demand side of the equation with the “Potatoes…Goodness Unearthed” campaign. The early work looks as good or better than other commodity advertising campaigns and should go a long way toward educating consumers about the healthful, good potato.

Have the stars aligned for the potato industry? Not completely – high input costs are cutting into profitability, but by working toward better pricing and driving demand for potato products, there’s still money to go around.

Grower Q&A
Lisa Shafel,
Sunnydale Farms, Antigo and Bryant, Wis.
How is the harvest coming along?
We’ve started our harvest. It wasn’t going quite according to plan, though. We started with our seed plot, but there were problems with the electrical and had to have an electrician come out, then there were problems with the harvester.

We’re not real far into the harvest. We’re getting somewhere, but not we’re not where we’d like to be. We got rain and were out of the field for about two and a half days. About a quarter is harvested now.

How was the growing season leading into the harvest?

We have had some very untimely frosts. We lost 400 acres of corn to a frost on Aug. 24. We went on a bike ride and looked at the field, and the next morning Jim said “I think we had a freeze!” We’re still waiting on the insurance adjuster to come out and evaluate the crop.

We were so dry this year, too. Guys were irrigating all summer. We went two months with barely a drop of rain. Every time a system comes through, it opens up and goes around us. I don’t know if it’s because we’re in the Antigo Flats or what, but the rain always seems to miss us.

Was the potato crop affected by the frost, and did your neighbors lose crops, too?
The potatoes are all okay because it wasn’t a freeze. It was spotty, especially in the low areas. An organic grower in our area lost his whole corn crop, so we were fortunate.

Some was sweet corn that was contracted, and fortunately that night our last field of snap beans was being harvested. You could see the frost swirling around, but I think the equipment moving around in the field kept the air moving.

Did your acreage or planting mix change this season?
We were going to get rid of Pikes a couple of years ago, but we were under contract so we grew it one more season and have phased it out now.

Reds and Yukon Golds are on fire for us. Last year they were sold out by January. They really went, and they went for a nice price. And last year all the potatoes were sold.

We had been growing 300 acres, and we cut back and have been hovering around 250. It seems like a better amount for us.

Yields have been nice, too. We go with 30-inch rows instead of 36. My husband figured that out a few years ago and we converted all the machinery over. It fills the sheds up quicker and we don’t need that extra acreage.

When will you finish up the harvest?
We always hope to be done by late September or early October. We have a really good crew this year – most of it is family. I think when it’s all family, everyone’s motivated to work hard and get things done. We’re a little behind schedule but I don’t see a problem with getting them out in time.

How’s the weather now?
It’s beautiful and sunny, but we have insurance adjusters coming so you’re sort of at their beck and call. Since we got a new harvester, my windrower is sort of obsolete. It’s just parked next to the building and they take parts off it. It’s sort of heart-breaking to not be in the fields – I’ve been working in the office. TEXT


Market Report
Russet Burbank was once again the most commonly-planted variety for the 2008 potato crop, but its popularity has been on the decline, according to USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). The USDA agency tracks and reports the varieties planted in the eight major potato-growing states: Colorado, Idaho, Maine, Minnesota, North Dakota, Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin. Total acres planted this season is estimated by NASS at 1,041,100 acres, a drop of 88,600 acres from 2007.

Russet Burbank accounted for 41.2 percent of planted acres in 2008, down from 45.5 percent of planted acres in 2007 and 45.8 percent in 2006. Russet Norkotah plantings increased in 2008 to 13.4 percent of acres planted, brining the variety to a higher level than the past two years. In 2006, Russet Norkotah accounted for 13.1 percent of acres planted, but in 2007 the variety decreased to 11.4 percent of acres planted.

The third most popular variety planted in 2008 was Ranger Russet, a place it’s held for a few years running. Nearly 11 percent of acres planted were of the Ranger Russet variety, a slight increase over 2007 and more than a percentage point increase over 2006.

Shepody is gaining ground, moving from the fifth most-popular variety in 2007 to the fourth in 2008. Last year, Shepody accounted for 4.8 percent of acres planted this season, compared with last year’s 3.8 percent. Umatilla Russet also saw an increase in acreage to take the fifth spot for 2008, up almost a full percentage point to 4.7 percent of acres planted. The Frito-Lay varieties were steady at 3.9 percent of acres planted in 2008. Norland moved from the fourth most popular variety to the seventh this season, according to NASS. The variety dropped to 3.6 percent of acres planted this season from 4 percent in 2007 and 4.1 percent in 2006.

Rounding out the Top 20 varieties for 2008 are: Alturas (1.9 percent), Goldrush (1.3 percent), Premier Russet (1.1 percent), Yukon Gold (1.1 percent), Western Russet (0.9 percent), Rio Grande Russet (0.7 percent), Canela Russet (0.6 percent), Silverton Russet (0.6 percent), Superior (0.6 percent), Dakota Pearl (0.5 percent), Chieftan (0.4 percent), Red LaSoda (0.4 percent) and Centennial Russet (0.4 percent).


Eagle Poppers!
PICTURE The snack food brand Eagle Snacks has been relaunched by Chicago-based Reserve Brands Inc. The company rolled out two new lines of innovative snack products – one potato based – to reinvigorate the 30-year old brand.

Poppers! and BURSTS! are Eagle’s newest additions to the snack food category.

Poppers! are popped up potato shapes that provide an airy crunch and a punch of flavor. Poppers! are available in four flavors: Sweet Onion, Honey Barbeque, Salt & Vinegar and Habanero.

BURSTS! are corn-based snacks that are available in three flavors: White Cheddar, Dulce de Leche and Cinnamon Sugar.

Poppers! and BURSTS! are available in 2.5-ounce bags at grocery stores. The suggested retail price for the snacks is $2.79.