Grower Q&A: Don Ramseyer, Ramseyer Potato Farms

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Year of the Potato Comes to an End
This month ends what the United Nations has deemed the International Year of the Potato. The humble potato was recognized for its contribution to world health and its importance as the “food of the future.”

The health benefits and diversity of uses of potatoes make it an important crop in developing nations, and global demand has risen at a rate of almost 5 percent for the last 10 years. While potato consumption in the United States and Europe has declined in that time, the rest of the world has been increasing its potato use. In the early 1960s, developing countries consumed 22 pounds of potatoes per capita. By 2003 that had more than doubled to almost 49 pounds per capita. That’s still well below European and U.S. consumption, but it shows the future prospects of the industry.

The potato is still an important crop in the United States and the industry has benefited from the United Nations’ recognition of the potato. North American growers may not be the largest producers of potatoes in the world, but they can get better yields and better quality than anywhere else as a result of hard work and decades of research from growers, Extension agents, government officials and state and national organizations.

Let’s build on the success of the International Year of the Potato by continuing to reinforce the healthful attributes and great taste of potatoes. The holidays are a great time to feature new potato recipes – can you imagine sitting down at a Thanksgiving or Christmas family gathering without at least one potato dish?

Those of us at Spudman will be doing our part during the holidays, and we wish all of our readers a happy holiday.

Grower Q&A
Don Ramseyer,
Ramseyer Potato Farms, Smithville, Ohio
How was your season this year?
As a whole it was a pretty good growing season. Everything was planted on time and we had plenty of rain. It looked very good and we had some of the biggest blossoms I’ve seen in a long time. I actually took the camera out and got some pictures because the blossoms were so many and so big.

We like to see that growth because when the Admire wears off and the Colorado Potato Beetles come, they have something to munch on.

So we had good rain and good growth, then it dried up.

Quality was excellent. Because there wasn’t any rain, the vines dried up and we didn’t have to put down any vine killer, and that just makes the crop really nice. I had a couple loads that had zero defects, which is really rare. Gravity was good. It was a great growing season for chips.

Did you change your product mix this season?
I switched a bit. Out of the field went to chips and everything in storage went to Campbell’s. I usually store some chips, but it just worked out this year that the prices were good to keep the processing chips in storage and ship the chips right from the field.

You get a little less for the processing potatoes, but you also don’t get the rejects. We grade out before going to the chippers and they’re really selective. We don’t grade out near as many for processing. Plus it’s just the peace of mind knowing that load isn’t going to be rejected.

I cut my acreage back 85 acres for 2008. I was at 285 acres in 2007, 200 in 2008 and next season I’ll be back up to 250. I’m working on contracts right now and shipping out of storage right now. I always try to check on what Florida and North Carolina are getting for chipping potatoes, and that gives me a good idea for around here.

Did your costs go up this year?
We never had to spray the fields for vine kill. That really cuts down on cost. I had to do a 1099 to pay the guy that comes out to spray my fields, and I had to call the accountant to make sure it was right because the number was so low.

I get most of my seed from Maine. It’s been a good fit to get their seed to grow here. But they had a short season in Maine and they weren't getting their usual yields, so the price has almost doubled. I just committed to that three days ago.

Fertilizer prices have been coming down. I locked it in last year and got a really good price, but it was up to $1,000 and now it’s down to about $600 as of a few weeks ago. So we’re going to wait and see.

I did hear that some chemicals are going up. I heard mancozeb may double or triple in price for some reason, so I’m trying to find some first and then lock it in. TEXT


Market Report
Fall potato production is estimated at 374 million hundredweight, 8 percent fewer than 2007, according to USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. Planted acres were also down 8 percent from 2007, at 921,000 acres. All of the major potato-producing states cut back potato acreage this season, with Idaho cutting back 45,000 acres, North Dakota and Washington 10,000 acres and Oregon 1,200 acres.

USDA is projecting yields slightly lower than last year’s record of 415 cwt. per acre. Average yields for 2008 are expected to be 406 cwt. per acre, about 3 percent lower than 2007. Idaho’s yields could be the second-highest recorded yields at 378 cwt. per acre, up slightly from the 2007 season and just 8 cwt. per acre lower than the record set in 2006. With the reduced acreage in Idaho, total production is projected at almost 115 million cwt., down from 130 million cwt. last season.

Colorado yields are expected to beat the 2007 average by almost 20 cwt. per acre, according to USDA. Total production in the state is up from last year to almost 23 million cwt., but still lower than 2006 when yields were even higher. Sizes are variable from parts of the state due to a hailstorm in August.

Washington and Wisconsin both saw reduced yields at 600 cwt. per acre and 415 cwt. per acre, respectively. Even with the yield reduction in Washington, the state maintained the highest yield average. Maine also had reduced yields following a wet spring. The state average is expected to be 265 cwt. per acre, 30 cwt. per acre lower than last season and 45 cwt. per acre lower than 2006. Between the lower yields and acreage reduction of about 1,000 acres in Maine, the total production from the state should be down about 2.3 million cwt. to 14.5 million cwt, according to USDA.

Total U.S. potato production across all four seasons is expected to be 411 million cwt., according to USDA. That’s about 8 percent lower than 2007. Harvested area is forecast to be about 1 million acres, 7 percent lower than last year, and yields also will be down to 393 cwt. per acre, 3 percent lower than last year’s record high yield average across all seasons.


Snack Friez from Herr’s
PICTURE Pennsylvania-based Herr’s Foods, makers of Herr’s Potato Chips, launched a new snack last month.

Snack Friez are made from a blend of corn and potatoes and formed to look like french fries. The fries are oven baked to give them the flavor of a fresh-cut fry and the crisp of a potato chip, according to the company.

The Snack Friez will be introduced in three varieties: Cheddar Cheese, Hot-Hot-Hot and Salt and Vinegar. They’ll be packed in three convenient sizes.

The fries are the second big news in the snack category from Herr’s in as many years. In 2007 the company rolled out its Kettle Chips, including a bag of blue kettle chips that was introduced in January.