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While Red River Valley red potato growers have enjoyed "fairly strong markets for the last few years, there have been struggles producing what you would call a normal to large crop," according to Randy Boushey, general manager of A&L Potato Co., located in E. Grand Forks, MN.

In a Jan. 4 interview with The Produce News, Mr. Boushey said that one of the reasons the valley's potato production isn’t keeping pace is that “there are a lot less potatoes planted because of all the other worthy commodities to grow. Corn, wheat, beans — about anything now is profitable for growers. Potatoes are the hardest to grow, and you can make about as much growing wheat. Strong markets in grains and beans have made it a lot more profitable straight across the board for any commodity. Once you get a surplus off the market, anyone can manage profitably. Corn has had the single largest increase in production, because of ethanol.”

The diversion to corn has reduced potato supplies and helped potato prices.

This winter, the Red River Valley storage potatoes are enjoying “prices that are not bad,” he said. “They’ve been moving along pretty steady. Movement? I would say we are ahead of schedule. A contributing factor I think is that Wisconsin had a little less crop than normal. So our customers are drawing earlier than in the past. That is helping a little bit, and russet prices are up, too, so there is a demand for reds.”

With red potato crop damage expected from the Florida freeze earlier this winter, Mr. Boushey expects to see “steady demand all the way thorough the shipping window.”

Between one-half and one-third of A&L’s potatoes remain to be shipped in 2011.