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Haun describes unusual potato season; onions 'a made deal'

by Tad Thompson | December 06, 2010
A late-running Idaho Russet Burbank potato harvest created a series of events making this potato shipping season "a little strange," according to David Haun, president of Haun Potato Co., based in Shawnee Mission, KS.

Mr. Haun, who described Idaho as “the mother lode of storage deal” ran late in harvest because of a cool, wet September. Then, a “calm 'Indian summer' extended the season — the areas that could have been frosted came out unscathed” with the end result being conditions that “brought a little extra tonnage.” He said the Russet Burbanks “want to cure” for a while after going into storage. By the second week of November, those were being prepared to come out of storage. To fill the russet void, “Idaho was forced to ship Russet Norkotahs more.” Russet Norkotahs tend to be bigger than Russet Burbanks.

The move was “consumer-driven” as shippers “tried to keep up with demand. Instead of Burbanks, they were running all Norkotahs, which caused a weakness in the market that we are feeling today,” Mr. Haun told The Produce News Nov. 15. “Now there are more Burbanks in the market, and there will be through the balance of the year from Thanksgiving through Christmas. Demand is better for poly bags than it will be after the first of year.”

The poly bag deal early this season appeared to be burdened with small Burbanks and there was the frightening outlook of “virtually giving them away like last year,” Mr. Haun said. “In the meantime, your markets in Colorado and Wisconsin and Washington have stayed pretty steady. They haven’t really changed in price much. They are strong. In Wisconsin, a couple of people said that because Idaho is ahead of where they were projected to be this year, at some point, it will move prices up again. Colorado thought they would be burdened with really big potatoes this year. But the later spuds were a little smaller.”

Furthermore, Mr. Haun noted that “Washington is not that much of a factor off the West Coast. They won’t push until next spring if they have enough to push back to the East Coast.”

He noted that red and yellow potato crops generally are “a little below” average production and growers “are getting decent returns for them.”

Meanwhile, the Western storage yellow onion market is “strong and will get stronger,” he said.

On Nov. 15 Mr. Haun said that, for a variety of reasons, the demand for Western onions is very strong.

“Eastern buyers buying western onions” from Mr. Haun have indicated that eastern onions are having significant quality problems. Furthermore, export markets in the Pacific Rim and Mexico have drawn a lot of volume off a storage deal which from the beginning “basically looked like an average [sized] crop. It is certainly not burdensome.”

He said “demand has been very high all along.” The export markets and Eastern buyers mostly buy medium-sized onions. “The market has had overwhelming demand in the last couple of weeks” which in turn heightened the price of yellow jumbos, then colossal. By mid-November super colossal onions were receiving good demand to fill the onion market.

“The Canadians are buying more” and the onion-hungry large East Coast population is causing the market to “do nothing but stay strong and get stronger.” There will be no new national onion supplies “until March, basically,” Mr. Haun said. “Movement is so good that the shipping end can start to slow a little just to carry the crop out to where it should. This is a made deal.”

White and red medium-sized onions “are usually fairly cheap but they are getting used more because of the shortage of yellows. This is a slam dunk. Growers are making good money now and they will make more. If demand slows, they will wait until it picks up. They are too far ahead to have to worry” about an oversupply of onions this season.