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Weather cooperating with planting
Potato market looking good  By GERRY BAKSYS H&N May 4, 2006

Things are looking up for Dan Chin.
   The Klamath Basin potato farmer said that the weather is turning around just in time for the planting season.
   “We’re actually getting past a wet spell,” Chin said. “We’ve had a week of dry weather, and the ground is drying out. We usually start (planting) at the first of May, so we will start planting here in the next couple of days.”
   Diverse potato crops
   Chin plans to grow about 900 acres of potatoes this year, up from the 780 acres he grew in 2005. But while his total acreage has grown, so, too, has the variety of potatoes he is developing.
   “We’re increasing acres because we are growing different varieties,” Chin said. “We’re growing more speciality varieties and less of the traditional Russet variety. Plus, we have some customers that have been asking for specific types of potatoes.”
   Acreage reduced
   Chin said he has been branching out because of a glut in the traditional potato market. He noted that starting with last year’s growing season, potato farmers across America were asked by the United Potato Growers to reduce the number of acres they grow.
   “We decreased (our traditional potato yield) this year by 35 percent,” Chin said. “The year before we were down 15 percent.”
   Ed Staunton, chairman of United Potato Growers of Klamath Basin, said the group encouraged members last year to decrease potato acres to increase profits. He added that the effort met with modest success, but the trick will be keeping the number of potato acres down again this year.
   “This year has been a profitable year,” Staunton said. “Usually after a good year, the following year is a poor price because everyone gets a false sense of hope that they can plant more potatoes. The program will be a success if we can put two good years together. In July, when we get the acreage report, we’ll know.”
   Chin, who participates in the coop, said reducing acreage is difficult because there are a number of factors that can complicate a Klamath Basin potato season.
   “Our planting process is about 2 1/2 weeks, and then our growing season here in Klamath Basin is about 100 days,” he said. “It is a short season compared to most potato areas. Weather is probably the biggest factor. With mother nature, you just take what you get. The biggest concern here is (frost at night).”
   Yearly outlook
   Still, despite the waning annual national consumption of potatoes and the shorter growing season, Chin sees another profitable year for area potato growers.
   “Locally,” Chin said, “we are close to the northern California market and there is a big consumer base there. So if we can keep them supplied with the good quality that the Klamath Basin puts out, we can keep that niche. The challenge is to keep supply on consistent basis.”



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