Bart Connors, Skone & Connors Produce

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April Showers…
Winter turned into spring rather quickly here in west Michigan. One day the trees in my yard were brown, lifeless sticks and the next they were full and green. A few heavy rain showers inundated the area with rain and there was one night of frost, but temperatures in general have been climbing and the precipitation of late hasn’t been too heavy.

Not every area is on schedule for potato planting, however. The Northeast is as much as a week ahead, but Idaho and areas of the Pacific Northwest are behind due to cool, wet weather. The Texas potato harvest is underway, but the region has been dry, so growers there have needed to irrigate.

The weather doesn’t always cooperate, but there’s not much a grower can do about that. It’s one of the joys and hardships of being a farmer. The one thing growers can do is plan their crop for the market. With the economy in a recession and processing demand down, there’s a chance that the industry could overproduce this season. Bruce Huffaker estimates a 2 percent reduction in acreage, but if yields hit averages then the crop may be larger than last season.

When there’s a shortage, like what we saw over the winter, it’s common for growers to plant more the following season. The market has changed considerably since then, so take the current market into account when planning your acreage and match your supply to your demand. If everyone does that, then the entire industry will benefit.
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Bart Connors
Skone & Connors Produce, Pasco, Wash.
 
What was your experience like serving as chairman of the United States Potato Board last year?
It was a great experience. Obviously we had a few ups and a few downs, but really it was a wonderful experience. It’s something I’ll never forget, that’s for sure.

What were some of those ups and downs?
Being a national organization, you have different parts of the industry and they all want to make sure they’re getting their money's worth. What I’d call the ups and downs is just communicating to the different parts of industry. What was a negative usually turns out to be a positive once it gets there. That’s the interesting part about being chairman – you get to hear about all that stuff that you don’t normally get to hear being on a committee. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Did you have any words of advice for incoming chairman Tom Qualey?
Tom is a really level-headed guy and I think he’ll do great. That’s what I told him. He’s got a great way with people and I think that will serve him well.

How is the season shaping up there in Washington?
Most of the potatoes are in the ground; there might be a few stragglers but for the most part everything’s been planted. It’s a little hard to tell today how many have been planted. With all the issues around contracts I think acres are going to be down. Things got off to a slow start with the weather, but today’s nice, so we’ll see how it goes from there.

I don’t know if we’re behind normal – who knows what normal is – but I think we’re about on par with where we were last year.

I think the market’s held in there pretty good with the how the economy’s been. I don’t like to be pessimistic, so I’m hopefully optimistic about the season. TEXT

 

Market Report
Prices for the 2008 U.S. potato crop peaked in January and have been on the decline in the months following. Despite a smaller than average harvest in 2008, it appears as though there will be enough supply to last until the 2009 potatoes begin to hit the market – the result of a weakened economy and decreased processing demand.

Fresh prices for potatoes out of storage remained about 18 percent higher than the previous year, although the price difference began to narrow in March, according to USDA’s Economic Research Service. On average, growers received $9.07 per cwt., with some regions seeing modest increases from last year and others dropping below last year’s prices as a result of large stocks. Fresh shipments have dropped about 6 percent from last year, but March saw a slowdown of 18 percent from decreased processing demand.

Frozen stocks are about 600,000 cwt. higher than the three-year average and processing use was off by about 5 percent through March.

Exports of fresh and processing potatoes are up over the three-year average by 21 percent, but a slowdown in February indicates that demand may be dropping off – as a result of the global recession and strengthening U.S. dollar.

Winter potato production was down 15 percent this year, but the spring crop was up by 3 percent. Yields also were down, especially in Florida, but overall production is expected to increase. Judging by the number of seed shipments, USDA is estimating that summer potato production will be about the same as last season, although shipments slowed down in March, indicating that growers may back off on planting as a result of the drop in demand being seen.

 

Kettle Brand Create-a-Chip Kit
PICTURE Kettle Brand is inviting fans to “shake up” the next great Kettle Brand Potato Chip flavor with the Create-a-Chip Kit, sold at select retailers and online for a limited time. A fan-submitted chip flavor could be the next People’s Choice winner.

The Create-a-Chip Kit includes everything needed to make a new flavor of potato chip: four 1-oz. bags of unseasoned chips and seven packets of all-natural seasoning blends including lemon butter, caramelized onion, roasted tomato, cheddar, vinegar, sweet chili and sour cream and chive. For inspiration, each Create-a-Chip Kit also comes with 5-oz. bags of past People’s Choice winners: Spicy Thai, Buffalo Bleu and Tuscan Three Cheese Kettle Brand Potato Chips.

Just sprinkle on the all-natural flavors using the Create-a-Chip Kit seasoning blends or add other ingredients from the fridge or pantry, and shake. Next, visit www.KettleChipChallenge.com to submit favorite recipes and be entered to win free Kettle Brand Potato Chips for a year. Fan flavors will be featured online for others to rate and review, on a five-star scale from dull to delicious.

Limited-edition Create-a-Chip Kits are available online at www.KettleChipChallenge.com for $14.99 or $24.99 for two, and will be in Cost Plus stores nationwide and Fred Meyer stores in the Pacific Northwest this summer. The next People’s Choice Kettle Brand Potato Chip flavor inspired by fan recipes will be unveiled in October.