Potato production pales in 2005
November 17, 2005 by HOLLY
Both production and
harvested acres for potatoes are down by 7 percent
in the United States this fall, according to
statistics released last week from the National
Agricultural Statistics Service.
But less means more this year for growers who
purposefully reduced acreage in an effort to
eliminate a glut of russet variety fresh market
potatoes that have been lowering prices for the
“That's going to give us a
real positive market this year,” said Ed Staunton,
chairman of United Potato Growers of the Klamath
Basin, part of a newly formed nationwide
cooperative of potato growers, United Potato
Growers of America.
“It's positive in the fact that we're down 28
million sacks, and a great majority is fresh
production,” Staunton said.
Oregon and California harvest figures were mixed.
Oregon set a new record high with an average yield
of 584 hundredweight per acre, up 50 hundredweight
compared to 2004. Harvested acres increased
slightly to 37,100 acres, up 100 acres from 2004.
In California, average yield decreased by 6
percent for 450 hundredweight per acre, down 30
hundredweight compared to 2004. Harvested acres,
at 7,200, was down this year by 5 percent.
The diversion of 7 million hundredweight of
potatoes by Idaho growers from the fresh market
helped stabilize prices in May, June and July and
provided room for this year's crop.
The potatoes were either
sold to the government for dehydration, used for
cattle feed or buried.
“It definitely helped the
last three months of the marketing year,” Staunton
said. “If they hadn't done that there would have
been a lot of old crop potatoes.”
Another tool growers are using beyond reducing
acres and removing extra potatoes from the market
is communicating and interacting with other
growers across the nation through weekly marketing
calls. Growers use the marketing calls to discuss
both market demand and potato stocks.
“It's been working well,” Staunton said. “Before
you've just been reading reports. Now you're
talking over the phone. Marketing calls were the
big reason for price increases in May, June and
So far growers are seeing
prices from $7 to $9 per hundredweight.
“According to statistics, we've had the best
September and October we've had since 1995 on
prices,” Staunton said.
And with improving prices,
the temptation for some packers is to put more
potatoes into the market.
“Sometimes when this happens - when people want to
run potatoes - that market goes down and you can't
stop that. But it's actually maintained itself for
quite some time,” Staunton said. “Supply
management is the No. 1 key.”
But old habits die hard.
When one year's crop sees improved prices, a
grower's instinct is to plant more the next year.
“The tough thing will be
trying to cut back acres this coming year,”
Staunton said. “After a real good year everyone
goes out and plants potatoes. After a good year
everyone starts feeling the market's going to be
This year about 7,000 acres were grown in potatoes
in the Klamath Basin, a reduction of 10 percent
from 2004. Throughout the nation, United members
set a goal of 8 percent this year.
“We shot for 8 percent, and wound up with 7,”
In 2006 United growers will cut acreage by 8 to 10
“If we can get everyone to plant less it's going
to be a profitable year again,” Staunton said.
Another focus in the coming year will be to
involve more growers in the cooperative. In the
Klamath Basin, about 90 percent of fresh market
growers are involved.
“Membership here is doing very well,” Staunton
said. “We're talking to some growers who are very
United also is working to involve both processed
potato and potato chip variety growers.
“In our area we've got a big chip grower that's
interested, and I think they're going to join,”
In Idaho, United has worked out an agreement with
the Southern Idaho Potato Cooperative, which
represents process growers.
Process growers on contract often plant more acres
than they'll need, Staunton said, in order to make
sure they are able to meet their contract. This
practice often results in potatoes that are
channeled into the fresh market.
“Usually the overages come in and actually hurt
the market,” Staunton said. “What United's talking
about doing is controlling those overages.”
Other states the cooperative is focusing on
include Maine and North Dakota, states that
haven't formed a United cooperative yet.
“They reduced acres last year. They did the right
thing,” Staunton said. “I think they're waiting to
see how United goes.”
Staunton isn't surprised by the caution of growers
in Maine and North Dakota.
“Potato farmers are very independent. Over time I
think it's going to happen,” Staunton said.
On the Net: www.unitedpotatousa.com