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National potato stocks down 8 percent from last year

Dave Wilkins, Capital Press Staff Writer

U.S. potato supplies were down nearly 14 million hundredweight from last year as farmers prepared to plant the new crop.

The top 13 potato-producing states held 154 million hundredweight of 2005 fall-crop spuds on March 1, a decrease of 8 percent from a year ago, according to figures released last week by the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

States with traditionally strong fresh markets showed some of the biggest declines in stored spuds.

Idaho held 55 million hundredweight of spuds, a 14 percent decrease from a year earlier.

Colorado was also down 14 percent, with 10.2 million hundredweight of potatoes in storage, and Wisconsin held 2 percent fewer spuds than a year ago.

In California, fall potato stocks were down 40 percent from a year ago to just 900,000 cwt., a reflection of short supplies in the Klamath Basin, according to industry analysts.

North Dakota’s potato stocks were down 49 percent and Minnesota held 19 percent fewer spuds than a year ago.

Washington and Oregon both bucked the trend, with more stored spuds on hand than a year ago.

Stocks were 10 percent higher in Washington state than a year ago and 28 percent higher in Oregon.

Tighter supplies across most of the country have brought higher prices.

Fifty-pound cartons have been selling for about $17 to $22 at Idaho packing sheds, a significant increase from a year ago.

In late February, United Potato Growers of Idaho reported improvements to the fresh market had brought offers for field-run dehy-quality potatoes to $6 per hundredweight or more.

Growers in the Northwest are getting ready to plant the new potato crop.

Tighter supplies and higher open-market prices for fresh spuds may tempt growers to increase plantings this year, said Jim Chapman, a consultant to the Southern Idaho Potato Cooperative.

“I expect this market will take a pretty good upturn and it’s going to fuel some optimism,” Chapman said recently.

Average grower returns in Idaho could hit $7 to $8 per hundredweight as producers take to the fields for planting in April and May, he said.

“It could be just enough to encourage guys who can find some more seed to increase plantings,” Chapman said.

Potato acreage was down 7 percent in Idaho and nationally, in 2005.

Leaders of SIPCO and United, mindful that plantings usually increase the year following a decrease, have been urging growers to show some restraint this year.

Members of the two organizations have signaled their intent to reduce plantings by about 10 percent.

Dave Wilkins is based in Twin Falls, Idaho. His e-mail address is dwilkins@capitalpress.com.



Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM  Pacific

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