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Basin potato growers seek clout in marketplace

Published December 22, 2004

It's never seems fair that producers often get penalized by low prices and lost income for an efficiency that produces cheap food for the nation.

But that's how the marketplace works. Big crops can mean glutted markets and reduced returns to farmers that may not even cover the cost of production.

There's an effort being made in the Klamath Basin to do something about that through a potato cooperative that would control supply from its members with the hope of pushing potato prices higher.

It's an iffy proposition, though we wish it well.

To be successful, it has to control enough of the supply to have an impact on the market. Organizers say the co-op - to be called the United Potato Growers of the Klamath Basin - will have at least have the growers in the Klamath Basin as members.

At one time, potatoes were grown on 30,000 aces in the Basin, but that has shrunk to an estimated 12,000 to 15,000 acres.

Like farmers in many places, Basin potato growers are at the mercy of larger forces.

When it comes to acreages devoted to growing spuds, the big kid on the block is Idaho, which generally has 350,000 to 400,000 acres planted. Washington State is next high with about half that.

Competition is fierce.

Weather, of course, also plays a role, and weather that hurts one potato area, can help another by opening up markets.

Organizers of the United Potato Growers hope all local growers and shippers join the effort to reduce production with the hope of pushing up prices to buyers.

It's always been a conundrum that U.S. agriculture, which produces so much at so little cost, and results in low-cost food, doesn't always have adequate rewards for the people doing the producing.

Again, that's the marketplace at work, and a co-op is a proposal to use marketplace forces to increase income to local farmers. But if it works and increases income to Basin potato growers, it would benefit the local economy as a whole.


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