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Potato market looking promising

April 13, 2006  By HOLLY OWENS   H&N Staff Writer

Klamath Basin potato growers say a plan to reduce potato acreage has helped the market, and their sales.

Growers are coordinating nationally and with their competition to regulate sale of their crop.

And they are seeing the market change. In Klamath County, fresh market potato producers saw a 34 percent increase in sales from 2004, with an estimated increase of $3 per hundredweight, according to a report released from Oregon State University.

“It's been going really well,” said Ed Staunton, chairman of United Potato Growers of the Klamath Basin, a cooperative of Basin area farmers which was formed in 2005.

The local co-op is part of United Potato Growers of America, which includes members from other potato growing regions throughout North America. United also regulates sale of potatoes through an agreement with the Potato Marketing Association of North America. The combined membership of these two organizations represents more than 80 percent of the potatoes grown in North America.

In December and January potato prices were falling, Staunton said. By controlling the flood of potatoes to the market on a national level, the co-op was able to bring prices back up.

“We'd never seen the market go up in February,” Staunton said. “So that was a very surprising response. That shows you that there's only so much potatoes you can put out every week - and you've got to stick to those numbers.”

The positive side-effects of fewer acres planted in 2005, and fewer potatoes harvested, should be felt next year, too.

“The 2006 numbers again are going to look pretty good. You're going to see that because it's kind of a delay. Because the crop is sold all through the 10-month season,” Staunton said.

Also driving the potato market is consumer appetites.

“Our per capita consumption is going down a little bit every year and it's still trending that way,” Staunton said. “Yields keep trending upwards. It's kind of a double whammy.”

Promoting the virtues of potatoes is part of the U.S. Potato Board's efforts to elevate the vegetable on the plates of consumers.

Mr. Potato Head is the board's designated “spokespud,” appearing in the 2005 Macy's Thanksgiving Parade, promoting the nutritious side of potatoes.

“They're trying to find different creative ways to get the word out on how healthy potatoes really are,” Staunton said.

Bringing more growers to the co-op, specifically those who raise potatoes on contract for potato chip companies, is something United is working toward.

“That's our next goal in our area is to prove to the chip growers that being a United member is worth its weight,” Staunton said.

Growers are preparing now for this year's crop. Part of the process is deciding how many acres will be planted in the Basin.

Fresh potato acreage has declined dramatically in the last 11 years. In 1994 more than 19,000 acres were planted. This year about 7,000 acres should be planted in fresh market potatoes.

“We're trying to maintain the same amount of acreage from 2005,” Staunton said.

Bids for a buy-out program through the co-op to reduce acreage will be opened next week, said John Cross, secretary-treasurer of United Potato Growers of the Klamath Basin. And in its second year, more growers are getting involved in the buy-out program.

“We got more interest this year than last year, which surprised me,” Cross said.

Acreage may be reduced further by the retirement of a few of the Basin's farmers, Staunton said.

“Whether they'll be replaced, we'll have to see,” Staunton said.

But for now, growers are waiting on the weather.

Staunton has been able to get some ground work done for potatoes, and has started planting onions, but he noted some wheat growers are behind schedule due to the weather.

On the Net: United Potato Growers of the Klamath Basin: www.unitedpotatokb.com The Healthy Potato: www.healthypotato.com





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