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Preventing a spud flood

 April 13, 2005



Klamath Basin potato growers had until Monday to submit bids for a buy-out program aimed at reducing acreage used for growing fresh market potatoes.

The goal of the program is to eliminate a glut of russet variety potatoes in the market - on both a local and a national level.

"A potato producer is probably losing somewhere around $500 to $1,000 per acre right now," said Ed Staunton, chairman of United Potato Growers of the Klamath Basin and board member of United Fresh Potato Growers of America.

United is a newly formed cooperative of potato growers that operates at a local and national level. The national cooperative is made up of growers from Idaho, Colorado, Wisconsin, the Washington and Northern Oregon region and the Klamath Basin.

"We're looking at the mid-Atlantic region to join and also the Southwest, which would include Southern California, Arizona and New Mexico," Staunton said.


Word of the co-op's efforts is spreading. Maine and Northeast Canada also have shown interest in joining, said Staunton.

The group estimates that more than 12 million hundredweight of excess fresh market potatoes could be grown in the United States this year.

The acreage buy-out was decided by board members of the national organization in an effort to reduce the glut of potatoes on the market. Each board member then went to their region to get approval for the buy-out.

"I couldn't make that decision without coming back to my area and deciding that they wanted to do this," Staunton said.


And the vote was nearly unanimous.

"There were a couple against it, but overall the majority was for it," Staunton said.

Local bids will be presented to the national board by Staunton and Marty Macy, an alternate on the local co-op board, on Thursday and Friday. The winning bids will be announced April 18.

"Locally what we'll do is we'll take the bids that come in from our area, and make sure they're legitimate, fair bids," Staunton said. "And from that we will decide that these will be awarded their bid price.

"But if there's any extra bids that didn't get accepted that are legitimate, and any extra money that didn't get bid on, we'll take that to the national group and use those funds to either buy out acres in this area or to buy out more acres in other areas."


The idea of buy-out dollars not staying in the Basin disturbed some co-op members.

"Guys were very concerned about money leaving this area," Staunton said. They wanted to be assured that the money would be spent wisely.

This morning Staunton said 15 bids to reduce acreage had been received.

"You know how farmers are. They wait till the last minute," Staunton said.


However, the group is hoping not to have to reduce russet variety acreage in the Basin by much.

"Locally we're hoping for zero because we don't need to cut in this area. We've been cutting for a long, long time," Staunton said.

Fresh potato acreage in the Basin has declined dramatically in the last 10 years. In 1994 more than 19,000 acres were planted. In 2004 the acreage was reduced to less than half of that at 7,521 acres.

This year's fresh potato crop will come from even fewer acres.

"I'm thinking there's going to be somewhere around 7,000 acres this year," Staunton said.

Klamath Basin potato acreage is the third-highest for production in the United States. Washington ranks first, followed by the Hermiston area.

On his own land, Staunton will eliminate about 15 acres from production, and since he is chairman of the co-op, to avoid a conflict of interest, he won't participate in the buy-out process.

Buy-out bid winners who won't be growing potatoes can grow an alternative crop.

"That's a benefit over the water bank," Staunton said. "Because with the water bank you're not allowed to plant anything. With this you're allowed to plant another crop.

"It doesn't hurt the economy quite as bad as the water bank does."

The co-op is still accepting members for this year's growing season, but in the Klamath Basin there aren't too many growers left to join up. Staunton estimates that about 90 percent of the fresh market potato growers in the Basin are part of the co-op now.

Communication will be key to the group's success and a Web site to keep growers informed is in the works.

"Soon we'll have a Web site going," Staunton said. "Our biggest idea is to keep our members informed."





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

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