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Acreage levels off, top varieties decline further

Total seed acres certified in the United States for 2008 remained about the same as last year at 109,211 acres. That’s down from almost 132,300 acres five years ago. However, the Top 20 varieties for 2008 make up a larger percentage of total acreage than last year, but a smaller percentage over the five-year average. The 78,933 acres dedicated to the Top 20 varieties account for 72 percent of total acreage, but over the last five years the top varieties have accounted for an average of 76 percent of total acres.

The No. 1 variety continues to be the Russet Burbank, but that variety continues its decade-long decline in seed acres. In 2008, 24,324 acres of Russet Burbank were certified, a 14 percent decline from last season and a 36 percent decline from five years ago. Idaho certified 14,132 acres of Russet Burbank in 2008, nearly 2,000 fewer acres than last season – and weather conditions in the seed-growing areas of the state may reduce yields as well. The second-largest producer of Russet Burbank is Montana, which certified about 100 fewer acres.

Norland selections, including dark red, red and Norland red strains, were certified on 6,941 acres. That’s a reduction of 7 percent from last season, but the variety hasn’t fluctuated much over the last five years. Over the 16 years since Ranger Russet was introduced, it has typically been certified on 6,000 acres to 8,000 acres. This season, the variety was certified on 6,596 acres with most of that acreage in Idaho. That’s a 2 percent increase over last season, but still in line with the five-year average.

Russet Norkotah selections – a total of seven strains of Norkotah – increased acreage by 2 percent to 5,603 acres in 2008. The Norkotah strains have been on the decline for the last few years, down from a high of more than 9,000 acres in 2005. Russet Norkotah certified seed acres increased 10 percent to 5,092 acres. That’s the first increase in acreage for the variety since a high of 12,404 certified acres in 2004.

Umatilla Russet, a newer variety released in 1998 by the Tri-State Potato Variety Development Program, continues to grow in popularity. This season the variety was certified on 4,097 acres, a 17 percent increase from 2007 and more than double the acreage of five years ago. North Dakota certified more than 1,500 acres of Umatilla and Montana certified almost 1,400 acres.

Shepody, which has been declining steadily over the last five years, saw an increase of 25 percent over 2007. The variety was certified on nearly 3,500 acres in 2008, but is still almost half of the 6,000 acres certified in 2003.
Red LaSoda and Red LaSoda-NY varieties increased acreage by 27 percent in 2008, with North Dakota certifying the bulk of those acres. More than 1,660 acres of Red LaSoda were certified in North Dakota, about 60 percent of the total 2,804 acres certified.

Rio Grande Russet was released in 2005 and this season breaks into the Top 10 varieties grown. The variety increased in certified acres by 41 percent over last year. More than 2,300 acres of the total 2,800 acres were certified by Colorado.

Rounding out the Top 10 varieties is the chipping variety Atlantic, which saw a decline in certified acreage of 7 percent to 2,604 acres. Maine certified 991 acres and Wisconsin certified 544 acres, both down from 2007.
Other notable varieties in this season’s Top varieties include Canela Russet, a second-year named variety that increased in certified acres by 74 percent. Nearly all of the 1,828 acres certified were in Colorado. Premier Russet is another new release that is gaining in popularity and breaks into the Top 20 for the first time. Released in 2006 by the Tri-State Potato Variety Development Program, the variety was certified on 1,546 acres, an increase of 146 percent. Nearly 1,200 of those acres were certified by Idaho and 180 acres were certified by Oregon.

The remaining varieties in the Top 20 generally saw acreage decreasing from last season. Snowden declined 16 percent to 1,477 acres, Western Russet declined 15 percent to 1,123 certified acres, Superior declined 29 percent to 1,040 acres, Dakota Pearl declined 17 percent to 992 acres and Centennial Russet saw an acreage decrease of 2 percent to 982 acres. Goldrush was the only variety in spots 15 to 20 that saw a gain, which was certified on 1.182 acres, and increase of 7 percent over last season.

Dropping off the Top 20 list from 2007 was CalWhite, which was certified on 742 acres, primarily in Idaho. That’s a 19 percent drop from the 910 acres certified in 2007.

Seed growers in the United States are responding to consumer and industry demands with new varieties and a broader mix. But growers planning their seed purchases for next season can expect higher prices due to rising input costs and weather conditions that led to decreased yields in Idaho. Prices could be between $14 and $21 per cwt. for third generation seed, depending on the variety, according to the North American Potato Market News. Price books from the major seed growing regions usually are available by mid-November.

Originally posted Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2008

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