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Weather to delay the start of 2010 Northwest potato season

by Lora Abcarian | August 08, 2010
Turbulent weather in the Pacific Northwest is expected to delay the 2010 potato production season. But industry officials have indicated that the crop will be characterized by good quality and volumes. Spring conditions during the planting season were unusually cool and wet in the region.

Bill Brewer, executive director of the Oregon Potato Commission, said that the state's growing areas all provided positive feedback. "Each of the areas has indicated they have a nice crop coming," he told The Produce News in mid- July. Producers are still cleaning out supplies from 2009. As for transition between old-crop and new-crop spuds, Mr. Brewer added, “There may be a little overlap. It’s not going to be a slot. The flow between crop years will be good.”

Production started at the beginning of August and will continue into mid- October. Mr. Brewer said that start dates were off about 10 days from typical timetables due to weather, but volumes are expected to be normal when compared to 2009.

According to Mr. Brewer, acreage planted in Oregon for fresh potatoes is down slightly compared to 2009. But he noted that the number of fresh growers has actually increased this season, especially in the Klamath Basin. “Primarily, the sons and daughters [of producers] are starting to come back to the farm,” he said.

Several new Oregon varieties are being developed for the marketplace, and one of the newer spuds being commercialized by the Potato Variety Management Institute is the AmaRosa fingerling, characterized by its red skin and red flesh. “It holds its red color when cooked,” Mr. Brewer said. “I believe it will be a good specialty potato.”

Chris Voigt, executive director of the Washington State Potato Commission, said that weather was problematic for Washington’s potato producers this season. “It was a difficult spring for many growers,” he told The Produce News. “The start of the growing season was slow due to abnormally cool temperatures. A large windstorm in the Columbia Basin took its toll on the newly emerging plants due to blowing sand. What vegetation was left then froze when the temperatures dipped. Our red potato growers in the Skagit Valley also had a difficult time in the spring. Despite the slow start to our potato-growing season, we have had perfect potato-growing weather since.”

According to Mr. Voigt, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has estimated that 135,000 acres have been planted with potatoes in 2010, down 10,000 acres from 2009. “About 90 percent of our crop will end up being processed, while 10 percent will be in the fresh market. We are actually expecting yields to be up this year near record levels.”

Washington’s harvest began in mid-July, and Mr. Voigt said, “The quality and size look great. We had perfect growing conditions during the plant’s tuber initiation and bulking.”

Demand is growing for baby potato production. “These baby potatoes are being used by processors for roasted wedges and are typically in the ground for just a couple months,” Mr. Voigt said. “Our research also shows that these immature potatoes are much higher in nutritional value than a fully mature potato.”

(For more on Northwest potatoes, see the Aug. 9, 2010, issue of The Produce News.)