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Spud growers asked to cut back

United seeks 15 percent acreage reduction

Dave Wilkins Capital Press 2/2/07

United Potato Growers of America is calling on growers nationwide to reduce acreage again this year.

With U.S. fresh potato consumption still declining and production still climbing, it's crucial that plantings be controlled, United leaders said.

The national cooperative's 2007 acreage management plan announced this week seeks a 15 percent reduction from individual grower's 2004 base acreage.

"We urge all growers, members and non-members alike, to control acreage and ensure the viability of the potato industry," said UPGA Chairman Albert Wada, a grower-shipper from Pingree, Idaho.

"It is in every grower's best interest to support this or similar planting management plans."

For the past two years, United has urged growers to keep plantings under control, using 2004 acreage as a baseline for making cuts.

Last year, the co-op asked for a 10 percent reduction in plantings, but failed to see a corresponding drop in overall production due to increased yields, an "alarming" drop in fresh consumption and increased plantings by some non-members.

With prices for corn, wheat, barley, sugar beets and other crops at or near record levels, spud growers have little excuse not to cut back this year, Wada said.

"It's a rarity in potato growing to have multiple profitable cropping alternatives," he said. "It fits nicely with growers' need to extend rotations on their potato ground."

Growers should not count on a repeat of last year, when processors stepped into the market and bought up open-market spuds for french fries and European growers suffered weather-related crop shortfalls.

Neither scenario is likely to play out again this year, Wada said.

Processors are likely to contract more of their spuds this year and rely less on the open market, he said.

All UPGA member co-ops have agreed to the 15 percent acreage reduction from 2004 base acres.

Members who reduce their acreage less than the 15 percent in storage areas will be assessed a pro-rata fee on all their base acres, Wada said. Any collected fees will be maintained within the local co-op to buy down local acreage.

"The goal is to reduce planted acres, not collect fees," Wada said. "We urge non co-op members as well as our members to support this or a similar 2007 acreage management plan."

United, which so far has concentrated its efforts on supply management, is also pushing for increased demand.

Co-op leaders are working with the U.S. Potato Board and other potato organizations to influence consumption, especially of table stocks.

UPGA was formed in March 2005 in an effort to balance supply and demand.

Member groups now operate in California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Klamath Basin, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin.

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

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