IDAHO FALLS, Idaho — Idaho potato industry officials say they aren’t too concerned about recent reports estimating a slight increase in planted acres, both in the state and nationwide.
U.S. potato growers planted 955,300 acres this season, — a 1.9 percent increase from the 936,900 acres they planted in 2014, according to June 30 estimates from USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.
Idaho’s crop, at 325,000 acres, is up 4,000 acres from last season, according to the report.
USDA estimates Washington state growers planted 170,000 acres, up 5,000 acres from last season. Oregon growers held steady at 39,000 acres and California growers planted 7,500 acres, down 1,000 acres from 2014.
The NASS estimates are in line with numbers also released June 30 by United Potato Growers of Idaho, which sent teams driving 14,000 miles to physically count potato fields. According to UPGI, Idaho growers planted 323,956 acres, up from 321,462 acres last season.
Based on the weakness of the fresh potato market during the past two seasons and its sensitivity to higher yields, University of Idaho Extension economist Paul Patterson anticipated reports would show a slight decrease in Idaho’s planted acres.
“The market is signaling for people to plant fewer potatoes, which typically should be a reduction, not an increase,” Patterson said.
Patterson said other indicators that a decrease was in order include the strength of the dollar hampering exports, recent efforts by Europeans to expand potato markets and the lingering effects of the labor slow-down at West Coast ports.
However, IPGA officials say both their numbers and the NASS estimates show the Idaho increases are coming from southwestern counties, which produce spuds mostly to fill processing contracts, rather than flooding the open market.
According to IPGA’s count, growers in counties associated with fresh production planted 1,717 fewer acres this season, while planting in counties associated with processing was up by 4,402 acres.
Randy Hardy, an Oakley, Idaho, grower who chairs the fresh cooperative Sun Valley Potatoes, explained Ore-Ida moved many of the additional processed acres into Idaho from Oregon to be closer to its plant in Ontario, Ore. Though the other major processing companies reduced their Idaho contracts slightly, based on the port issue, Hardy said they’re “currently running hard now. They’re swamped.”
Hardy believes the acreage report is “as neutral as it could possibly be” and believes Idaho’s current spell of temperatures peaking above 100 degrees will ultimately have a greater impact. In 2007, when hot temperatures also arrived at about the same growth stage, Hardy said plants lost tubers, and yields were down. He said early digs in the Rupert area have confirmed reduced tuber counts, though there’s still ample time for plants to rebound.
Dan Hargraves, executive director with Southern Idaho Potato Cooperative, added, “I just hope we don’t have terrible quality because of the heat.”
Regardless of the crop profile, the Idaho Potato Commission will tailor an appropriate marketing plan, said IPC President and CEO Frank Muir.
“I do believe there will be challenges from the heat with this crop,” Muir said.