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Strong demand and good prices on tap for Wisconsin spuds

ANTIGO, WI — Strong, very early potato markets provided cause for Wisconsin potato growers to weigh their marketing options, with a small volume of earlier-than-expected shipping.

But Tamas Houlihan, managing editor and communications director of the Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association, based here, said that September will still, as per normal, be the key month for harvesting and developing marketing and related storage strategies for Wisconsin's potato growers.

Tamas-Houlihan-WPTamas HoulihanAt the Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association, Houlihan's primary responsibility is producing the WPVGA's trade publication, The Badger Common 'Tater.

Houlihan estimated that Wisconsin's 2013 potato crop will be 25 million hundredweight. He told The Produce News that a typical production volume for the state is in the 25 million- to 30 million-hundredweight range. Wisconsin growers planted 62,000 acres of spuds in 2013, which was down about 1,000 acres from 2012. National potato acreage in 2013 is down 6 percent, he noted.

Combined with poor growing conditions for some Red River Valley growers, "this will lead to a reduction in overall production. If there are fewer acres and lower yields (nationally), there should be strong demand and higher prices. Generally, we should expect strong demand and good prices for the fall, winter and spring."

In August, Houlihan said it was "a little too early" to accurately generalize a guess about the tuber size characteristics of Wisconsin's 2013 potato crop. But, he said, "The early returns are that the crop will have a good size distribution. We have excellent quality because of the cool nights we've had this summer."

Fresh-market shippers want potatoes in the range of six to 12 ounces per potato. A size range is a healthy feature so different customer needs can be met. "The early returns are that we have that as well as big bakers. A 60- to 70-count carton will get a nice return on the market. We will have good supplies."

But he noted that bad weather — excessive heat or rain — could still interfere with Wisconsin's potato crop.