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