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Show restraint, growers urged

Dave Wilkins 
Capital Press Staff Writer

Idaho potato industry leaders hope growers will show a little restraint again this year.

United Potato Growers of Idaho has been urging its members to pledge a 10 percent reduction from 2004 planting levels.

If growers follow through, it would be a rare back-to-back acreage decline.

“Growers have an unprecedented opportunity to create a second year of profitability if we will all restrict our plantings to the levels of 2005 or lower,” United Chairman Albert Wada said in a recent press release.

Spud acreage declined about 7 percent last year in Idaho, mirroring the national average.

But growers have a tendency to increase plantings the year after a decline, and that has industry officials concerned.

A big increase could be disastrous for the spud market, leaders of co-op have warned.

Heavy spring rains have slowed planting of sugar beets, grain and early potatoes across Southern Idaho. However, the bulk of Idaho’s russet crop is expected to be planted over the next several weeks.

While spud plantings were down from last year, yields continue to go up and demand hasn’t improved, United officials said.

“Growers may even consider reducing acreage by more than 10 percent to offset the probable increase in yield and the declining demand for potatoes,” Wada said.

United was formed in late 2004 to manage a large surplus of fresh potatoes weighing down the Idaho market.

Managing spud supplies throughout the marketing year will be easier if growers voluntarily restrict the amount that they plant in the spring, co-op leaders said.

By March 1, more than 70 percent of United’s members in Idaho had indicated that they would cut acreage by 10 percent from 2004 levels.

United officials expected 80 to 85 percent of co-op members to agree to the cuts before planting. Those who don’t will be asked to pay a $50 per acre assessment.

Co-op member Randy Hardy of Oakley, Idaho, said it’s important that United growers follow the acreage reduction program.

“It’s absolutely essential that it happen,” he said. “We have to control the supply. We’ve got to only raise what the market wants.”

In little more than a year, United has already made a difference, Hardy said.

“I’ve seen it work,” he said. “I think it needs to be successful.”

About 15 to 20 percent of Idaho growers aren’t members of United, so they aren’t operating under the co-op’s acreage reduction constraints.

While non-members aren’t obligated to cut acres, Hardy believes some will do so anyway simply because it makes sense.

Last year, poor weather conditions contributed to significantly lower potato production across much of North America.

Growers shouldn’t count on the same thing happening this year, United officials said.

With increased snowfall in Idaho this winter, there is much less concern about drought.

Lack of irrigation water probably won’t be a factor and likely won’t lead to a reduction in acreage or yields, they said.

United Potato Growers of Idaho is a member co-op of the United Potato Growers of America, formed in March 2005 in an effort to match supply with demand.

Other United member co-ops operate in the Klamath Basin, Oregon/Washington and Wisconsin.

Dave Wilkins is based in Twin Falls, Idaho. His e-mail address is dwilkins@capitalpress.com.




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

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