Sep 20, 2017Long term trends, weather might keep russet market healthy
Growers in Idaho and Washington report that wet weather this spring, combined with multiple factors that have inspired growers to explore alternative varieties, could mean lower levels of russet production this year.
“Our situation was such that we had to plant later in the season,” said Dale Hayton, sales manager with Valley Pride Northwest Produce out of Mount Vernon, Washington.
Valley Pride plants colored potatoes but Hayton keeps a close eye on russet production since it affects the entire potato market. He said the weather delayed the harvest for other producers in the area and he thinks that supply in the region will be down.
Those weather conditions, combined with some producers planting varieties other than russets and others not being able to get loans to plant potatoes, will keep supply down.
Vice-president of Idaho Falls-based Wada Farms, Joe Esta, said he’s heard some producers say the weather during planting season has also affected yields in his area. A cold spring didn’t give potatoes enough heat units for a big harvest.
“The acres are down and I’m seeing a few yields off just a smidge,” he said.
He also has seen some of the same trends in russet production as Hayton. Some growers have switched to row crops, which can have less risk, and this year there was also a large number of rotations that hit at the same time, taking some land out of russet production.
Consumer tastes have also played a part, Esta said, including the increasing popularity of at-home cooking.
“For a lot of years people didn’t cook,” he said. “[But] even the microwave has become more culinary than it used to be.”
He said there are now packaged potato products that allow consumers to make tasty meals in microwave or convection ovens. Also restaurants and food service buyers have purchased more colored potatoes because of their attractive table presentation. He said Wada has adjusted to that demand, moving some acres from russets to colored potatoes.
Esta said the cold weather has affected how many tubers are under each plant but size should be OK. At this point of the harvest, he said, it’s too early to say what effect the temperatures will have on overall russet yields.
“All in all I don’t think it will be a huge difference,” he said.
For the week of Sept. 11 to 17, the USDA’s National Agriculture Statistics Service reported that Idaho’s potato crop is 22 percent harvested. That’s actually two percent above the five-year average but well behind last year’s progress, when 32 percent of the harvest was in at this time. There is rain in the forecast in the coming week for Oregon and Washington.