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Overall acreage holds steady for California new potatoes

by Brian Gaylord | May 09, 2010
California new potato acreage for 2010 is roughly on a par with 2009, when the estimate was 8,375 acres in Kern County.

Lee Frankel, president and chief executive officer of Salt Lake City-based United Potato Growers of America, told The Produce News May 4 that Kern County's acreage is down on russets. But Kern County potato acreage is up on red and yellow potatoes, fingerlings and small potatoes, he said. "There's a shift away from russets" among California growers, Mr. Frankel noted.

The 2009 estimate of 8,375 acres was a barely noticeable increase from the 2008 estimate of 8,362 acres.

At least one grower has dropped out of the California potato deal, Mr. Frankel said, adding that increased yields for other growers might offset the loss of volume from the grower who dropped out.

Lower supplies of bulk potatoes from some areas outside California bode well for California's new-crop potatoes, Mr. Frankel said. Yellow potatoes command a premium in the market, he added.

The Kern Produce Shippers Association's membership has grown over the past year, Mr. Frankel notedd. The association "keeps to a few discreet activities," such as bargaining with railroads, he said. The association steps aside to let the Western Growers Association use its clout on water issues and politics, he said.

Mike Haddad, a salesman with Kirschenman Enterprises Inc. in Edison, CA, said that this has not been an average growing season. Rain caused problems during planting, and there "may be some problems with maturity because of the weather," he said.

As a result, California's new-crop potatoes may face production slowdowns for the first two weeks of May, Mr. Haddad said, but ultimately, there will be no effect on yields or quality.

With retail chains, Mr. Haddad said that Kirschenman Enterprises emphasizes the color and shape of its white, red and yellow potatoes.

"To chainstores, we emphasize looks and that has hurt us with yields," Mr. Haddad said, adding that the experience likely is "comparable to other shippers." The emphasis on eye appeal is the "same battle every year," Mr. Haddad said.

Predictably, Kirschenman Enterprises' cost of running a business continues to climb. Two years ago, it cost $2,800 per acre to grow potatoes compared to a cost per acre of $3,500 today, Mr. Haddad said.

Competition for California's new-crop potatoes includes red and yellow potatoes from Arizona, and Washington state's red and yellow potatoes in storage. Florida competes for sales of white potatoes, and in about another three weeks, Texas will compete with red potatoes.