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2013 Idaho potato crop returns to more normal volume and size profile

The 2012 potato harvest in Idaho was remarkable in several respects. Acreage was up about 25,000 acres over the previous year. Yields were above average. The size structure ran heavy to large sizes, creating an imbalance between availability of various sized potatoes and the market demand for those sizes. Specifically, foodservice, which normally takes the larger sizes, was not positioned to absorb all of the large-sized potatoes available.

013-IDPotatoes-Crop-russetsIdaho russet potatoes in a bin on a packingline.The Idaho Potato Commission quickly responded with several programs designed to move the large potatoes and restore balance to the size structure. Those programs included a jumbo bag bin promotion run earlier in the season than ever before, an unprecedented second bin promotion later in the season, and an earlier start than before to retail ad allowance programs and to foodservice operator promotions.

“The impact of those actions was measurable and immediate,”  said IPC President Frank Muir. Prices improved, and the season finished on strong markets notwithstanding the large crop. The “doom and gloom” many felt at the outset proved unfounded, as the commission demonstrated that “once we understand the crop — profile, shape, size, quality, all of those things — we will adjust” programs if and as needed. “We do modify our programs based on the crop,” he said.

Bin promotions, for example, are not run every year but only when needed.

Growers also “did their part” with the larger crop,” Muir said, “and so did the cows…. Our growers sold over four million hundredweight to feedlots” which helped relieve some of the pressure on the market.

The 2013 harvest, which got underway with Russet Norkotah potatoes as well as some red, gold and fingerling varieties in August, was appearing from early indications to be very much a return to normal, in terms of acreage, which is down from the previous year as well as yields and size structure. Quality appeared to be outstanding. The one main departure from normal this season is the earliness of the harvest.

Weston Crapo, a salesman at  Sun-Glo of Idaho in Sugar City, ID, said  Sept. 6 that the Norkotah crop had a good, balanced size profile and that early test digs indicated that the Burbank crop should be nice as well.

“The crop looks good,” said Ken Stewart, general manager of L&M Cos. in Raleigh, NC, which handles sales and marketing for High Country Potato in Rexburg, ID. “We think  it is going to be a manageable crop this year. The market is good now. We got off to a good start, and we just feel like this year is going to be a much better year [from a marketing standpoint] as compared to last year.”

Acres are down from last year, yields are down as well, both closer to “a normal season in Idaho,” Stewart said. And unlike last year, “the size profile is close to a normal crop.”

“Quality seems to be good,” said Chris Wada, director of marketing at Wada Farms Marketing Group in Idaho Falls, ID. Some of the earlier Norkotah fields have had a size profile skewing more heavily to consumer sizes than cartons, but in early digging on the Burbanks, “we have found a good range of sizes in the entire crop,” he said.

“We think  production is going to end up being down eight to 10 percent for the season compared to last year for the state,” said Jim Richter, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Floyd Wilcox & Sons Inc. and its marketing arm, Wilcox Fresh, in Rexburg, ID.

“Based on the early digs,” the size profile of the crop is “smaller than last year, which would favor more retail bags,”  Richter said. “The quality looks very good.”  It appears to be a win-win situation for grower-shippers and customers alike, with Idaho having “a more normal sized crop and a return to what I would consider regular market pricing.”

The last season finished strong following “a very good summer, so all of those factors put us in a good position to start the new year,” he said.