Idaho potato grower-shippers and marketers say they have responded to the current global pandemic the best way they know how: with a good crop.
The weather was an ally to growers, said Ross Johnson, international marketing director with the Eagle-based Idaho Potato Commission.
“Idaho growers couldn’t have asked for a better growing season this year,” Johnson said Sept. 22.
“We were fortunate to have plenty of sun, and the Idaho harvest is about 25% completed, with every potato farmer working overtime to get potatoes into storage for the full marketing year of sales.”
It will be a good crop to market, Johnson said.
“All reports state ‘the quality is incredible,’ and we are gearing up for another successful year,” he said.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic caught the industry “off guard,” but retail sales have seen a “surge” throughout the crisis, Johnson said.
That sales spike helped to compensate for losses incurred in the foodservice sector, much of which shut down during the early stages of the pandemic, Johnson said.
Johnson noted that the commission “was able to act swiftly” to launch a bin promotion in April and May, which helped to re-direct larger-sized potatoes, which would have gone to foodservice under normal circumstances.
“This promotion alone sent an additional 10 million pounds of potatoes in less than two months’ time,” Johnson said.
The final value of Idaho’s 2019 potato crop was $1.04 billion, up 2% from 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which also noted that the marketing year average price for potatoes in Idaho was $7.98 per cwt., up 73 cents from a year earlier.
Idaho’s potato production for 2019 totaled 131 million cwt., down 8% from 2018, USDA reported.
Idaho, along with Oregon and Washington, supplied 62% of U.S. potato production in 2019, USDA said.
This 2020-21 season is off to a good start, with growing conditions much improved over those of a year earlier, said Dallin Klingler, marketing and communications manager with Idaho Falls, Idaho-based Eagle Eye Produce.
“We had a cold start, but have seen normal-to-dry weather conditions since — which are much better than what we dealt with last year — and the weather, for the most part, has been cooperating,” he said.
Eagle Eye’s acreage has remained stable, “due to our balanced customer-base of retailers, processors and foodservice,” but Idaho potato acreage overall is down, Klingler said.
“Our harvest has been excellent thus far,” he said. “We started on schedule in the first week of August out of our fields in western Idaho. We have since started harvesting our red, yellow, white, and russet crops in eastern Idaho.”
Eagle Eye anticipates increasing its volume with “more retail and export business than in previous years,” Klingler said.
Idaho’s fingerling crop looks to be “one of the best ever,” said Robert Tominaga, president of Southwind Farms Inc. in Heyburn, Idaho.
“Sizing, shape and skin condition is almost perfect, although yields may be average or slightly below average due to smaller sizing,” he said Sept. 26. “Packable yields will be above average.”
Growing and harvest weather had been very good, with cool temperatures in the early summer and “nice harvest temps, and no heavy rain or frosts,” he said, noting that the crop is “going into storage in great condition.”
Prices were low in the early going, Tominaga said.
“Market conditions seem to be stabilizing, but pricing is still below last year’s early season pricing,” he said.
“With foodservice still unpredictable, we have moved more into the retail sector, with very positive results.”
As of Oct. 2, 50-pound cartons of russet potatoes from Idaho’s Upper Valley, Twin Falls-Burley district were $12-13 for size 40s; $10-11, 50s; $10, 60s; $9-10, 70s; $8-9, 80s; $7-8.50, 90s; and $6-7.50, 100s. A year earlier, the same product was $11-16, 40s and 50s; $10-12, 60s and 70s; $8-10, 80s; $7.50-9, 90s; and $7-8, 100s.
The season was off to a positive start, as the harvest headed into its final stretch at Sugar City, Idaho-based grower-shipper Sun-Glo of Idaho Inc., said Jill Cox, vice president of sales.
“We’ve had a beautiful harvest,” she said Oct. 3.
“We feel like our yields are normal — no issues. We’ve got about a week left to harvest. Size profile appears to be in the perfect range. I think we’re set up for a good year.”