Survey shows Idaho spud acres up 2 percent
By John O’Connell
IDAHO FALLS, Idaho — Idaho potato growers planted 321,462 acres of potatoes for the 2014-2015 growing season, up 2 percent from last season, according to results announced June 27 of the annual United Potato Growers of Idaho acreage count.
The estimates are welcome news to industry leaders, relieved that Idaho growers increased their acreage only slightly.
“I was pleasantly surprised,” said Dan Hargraves, executive director with the Southern Idaho Potato Cooperative. “It looks to me like for the most part, growers did the right thing in keeping acres in check.”
Prices of specialty crops such as potatoes can be sensitive to production increases. UPGI estimated the 2013-2014 crop at 314,900 acres.
Oakley fresh potato farmer Randy Hardy, president of the National Potato Council, acknowledges a 2 percent increase “isn’t a bad number.”
Nonetheless, he believes the opening of the Mexican market earlier this season to fresh, U.S. potatoes beyond a 26-kilometer boundary from the Mexico-U.S. border led to some additional planted acres. The entire Mexican market abruptly closed a few weeks later due to a court injunction resulting from a legal challenge by Mexican growers.
“That’s probably the biggest goal to get Mexico back,” Hardy said.
Throughout the state growers are reporting that consistently cool night temperatures and an early start to planting have the current crop off to an outstanding start.
“The weather has been perfect. That usually spells a big crop, but we’re not their yet, either,” Hardy said.
Declo grower Mark Darrington said he planted his spuds early in unusually warm soil, and he estimates they’re five to six days ahead of schedule.
“This cool weather is ideal for good quality. When hot days are followed by hot nights and soil temperatures get higher, you start having concerns. So far we’ve had wonderful, warm days and cool nights, and that’s what makes Idaho famous,” Darrington said. “I think we’ve got a nice crop coming.”
UPGI surveyors drove more than 13,000 miles for on-site surveys of more than 116,000 fields totaling 3.1 million acres, utilizing Farm Service Agency field maps, according a UPGI press release.
United chapters in Washington, Oregon, Wisconsin and Colorado have also either recently concluded or are in the process of wrapping up 2014 on-site acreage counts.
UPGI officials say growers prefer the in-person data to surveys conducted by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.
“With a real number in hand, growers can make a more informed decision about when to sell, improving the grower’s ability to remain sustainable,” UPGI said in a press release.
Jerry Wright, president of United Potato Growers of America, said a subsequent audit confirmed the Idaho count was 99.6 percent accurate.
“This is a highly accurate count,” Wright said. “We’re confident that the numbers are the numbers, and we’re analyzing them to show what it all means.”