Nov 7, 2017Idaho’s spud count was low, but high quality
The weather didn’t always cooperate during Idaho’s 2017 potato-growing season, but in the end, producers turned out high-quality potatoes around the state.
“There is a lower yield this year, primarily driven by too much cold and too much heat at the wrong times,” said Frank Muir, president and CEO of the Idaho Potato Commission (IPC). “Growers are good at what they do, but Mother Nature has the last word.”
Still, although fewer potatoes came out of the ground than expected, Muir says the ones that did were of a good quality and were a good tuber size, meaning they will be easier to sell on the market.
In Idaho, 308,000 acres of potatoes were grown this year, which is 15,000 fewer acres than in 2016. About 13 billion pounds of potatoes were harvested.
“That’s a lot of potatoes,” Muir said. “If you filled (Idaho State University’s) Holt Arena from end zone to end zone, it would be a mile high.”
The majority of Idaho’s potatoes are grown in farms ranging from the Magic Valley on up into eastern Idaho. Sixty percent of Idaho’s potatoes are processed into frozen and dehydrated potato products, 30 percent head to the fresh retail and foodservice market and about 10 percent are certified seed potatoes.
More than 25 varieties of potatoes are grown around the state. The No. 1 potato variety grown in Idaho is the Russet Burbank, followed by other types of russets: Norkotah, Ranger and Shepody. Also growing in popularity are other varieties such as yellows, reds, purples and fingerlings.
“The key to marketing is to carry the ‘Grown in Idaho’ seal,” Muir said. Idaho potatoes are known the world over, and it’s for good reason, he said. “Idaho’s unique climate, soil and water make for better texture and flavor.”
According to the IPC, the average American eats about 113 pounds of potatoes each year.
James Hoff, an Idaho Falls-based potato grower and commissioner for the IPC, recently harvested 275 acres of potatoes. He is selling his Russet Burbanks to General Potato and Onion Distributors (GPOD) in Shelley, which offers fresh potatoes to various companies. Hoff grew up on a farm and remembers his dad also selling potatoes to GPOD. But a lot of things have changed with potato farming as well.
“The equipment has progressed,” said Hoff, who has been growing his own potatoes for 28 years. “You can get things done faster. The technology of the tractors has helped to increase comfort. The efficiency is phenomenal.”
Hoff has gone to a lot of IPC meetings over the years, and remembers back when there used to be a lot more potato growers than there are now, but each farm is bigger today. Still, he enjoys being on the smaller side.
“I like where I’m at,” he said.
This year, Hoff said, the growing season was reasonable. Even with some hot days thrown in, harvest went well.
“The tubers look nice,” he said.