Potato production was down throughout the Pacific Northwest during 2017, driven by acreage reductions in Idaho and lower yields in Washington and Oregon, according to a Nov. 9 USDA report.
USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service estimated Idaho’s 2017 potato production at 131.325 million hundredweight, down nearly 8 million hundredweight from the 2016 harvest.
Idaho’s average yield, estimated at 425 hundredweight per acre, was down by 5 hundredweight from the previous year. But the state’s growers also planted 15,000 fewer acres this season, with total 2017 planting estimated at 310,000 acres. Many in the Idaho potato industry, however, believe USDA’s statewide yield estimate was inflated.
Washington growers produced 99 million hundredweight of potatoes, a reduction of 6.625 million hundredweight from 2016. While Washington growers planted 5,000 fewer acres, with a total potato crop of 165,000 acres, their average yields, at 600 hundredweight per acre, were down by 25 hundredweight.
Oregon’s production was down 2.161 million hundredweight, at 20.79 million hundredweight. Oregon’s yields dropped 40 hundredweight per acre to 550 hundredweight per acre, and its planted acreage, at 38,000 acres, was down by 1,000 acres.
California growers increased potato production slightly to 3.69 million hundredweight, with average yields up by 5 hundredweight to 450 hundredweight per acre. They planted 8,200 potato acres, up by 300 acres.
Total fall potato production in the U.S. was about 399 million hundredweight, down almost 8 million hundredweight.
Idaho Potato Commission President and CEO Frank Muir described the USDA yield estimate for his state as “optimistic” and said United Potato Growers of Idaho’s estimates have come in much lower. Muir added that demand is strong and IPC’s programs will further drive sales.
“We anticipate this to be a very strong, profitable year for Idaho,” Muir said. “I think prices will continue to strengthen as we go through the year.”
Oakley, Idaho, farmer Randy Hardy, chairman of the board at Sun Valley Potatoes, said fresh prices have already begun to strengthen. He said returns to growers are more than $3 per hundredweight above where they were at this time last season.
Based on grower reports, Hardy also believes Idaho yields were down more than USDA estimated.
“The fact that we’re down at all is positive, especially when teamed up with an acreage reduction,” Hardy said.
Given the cold weather during harvest, Idaho Falls grower Merrill Hanny believes more spuds could be bruised and “we may not have as much available to the fresh market as the numbers might make you think.”
“The growers are getting, say, 30 percent more (returns) than last year already,” Hanny said. “We’ve had three tough years in a row, so it’s very welcome and very much needed.”
But Aberdeen, Idaho, farmer Ritchey Toevs said the cold weather could also help growers, as potatoes that go into storage when it’s cool tend to store better.