Questions abound for Eastern Shore potato market
by Tad Thompson | June 17, 2010
The possibilities are numerous for the marketing outcome of potatoes
harvested this summer on the Eastern Shore.
Grower-shippers cited a variety of factors that will influence each other as
the Eastern Shore plans to begin its spud harvest in late June.
At Dublin Farms, a potato grower-shipper based in Horntown, VA, David
Hickman, Dublin vice president, said May 21, "I think the market will be fairly
good. If North Carolina has its normal orderly marketing and moves a good
part of their crop in June and the first week of July, I think July should have
fairly good prices. We should have a reasonably good market in June and
Mr. Hickman added that the market presence of late storage western potatoes
"is always an issue for us even though they compete with round white prices. It is hard to have a tremendous difference between old- and new-crop prices.
The consumer tends to buy the lower-priced item, which keeps a lid on the
new-crop price." On the other hand, he noted, "By the time summer rolls
around, a lot of people are looking for thin-skinned red potatoes and yellow
or thin-skinned white potatoes. The new crop can always command a
premium, but if the old are considerably lower, it is hard to market against
As of May 21, "movement in the west is pretty good now. Probably the freeze
in south Florida last winter helped the old crop move out; the delay in the
Florida harvest gave the old crop another month to move. In that respect, the
late crop in the south has benefited. Now Florida is harvesting, and their
challenge is to move their crop before their window closes," Mr. Hickman said.
"The challenge for Florida will be moving their crop in a four-week period
instead of their normal six- to seven-week period. That could be the
challenge for the market on the whole East Coast. If Florida is out of the way
pretty much by mid-June, then we probably will have a pretty good market."
Eastern Shore potato production "is shaping up to be a more normal growing
season than I thought it would have been early. In the first three months of
the year, we had 12 inches of rain above normal," Mr. Hickman said. "So we
had issues with planting. Now we have warm days, cool nights and good
At Thomas E. Moore Inc., a potato shipper based in Dover, DE, Mark Hodson,
sales manager, offered complementary observations. The outcome of the
potato market on the Eastern Shore "depends on how things are shaping up.
In north Florida, there is a size profile issue now." There are many small-
sized Florida potatoes because of "adverse conditions in the growing season.
Now there is an excessive amount of B's and creamer size."
Mr. Hodson added, "Because of the size profile, there is a variation in pricing
because of the smaller product. 'B' and creamer sizes normally have a higher
value, but because there are so many, prices are reduced just to move them.
That could change in two or three weeks, based on what we're dealing with
now. The market in Florida is fairly strong, especially on Yukon Gold. I expect
it to stay fairly strong coming up the East Coast."
Mr. Hodson said that Idaho's good storage crop movement brought an
increase in count-potato prices. Those volumes "are starting to deplete, and
there is not an overabundance of large product." There were still East Coast
retail promotions of smaller-sizes of western potatoes packed in consumer
Mr. Hodson continued to explain the complex potato market scenario.
"Because of pricing on consumer packs out of the west and stronger East
Coast markets for whites, reds and Yukons, there is more motivation for
retailers to promote western russets over eastern varieties. We are still up
Mr. Hodson said May 21, "It's too early to predict" the outcome of the Virginia
and North Carolina crops, "but for all practical purposes, we should have
decent crops from those two regions. It should be OK."
(For more on the Eastern Shore, see the June 21, 2010, issue of The Produce