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Spud yield report surprises industry

By John O’Connell

Capital Press

Leaders with United Potato Growers of America are skeptical about USDA estimates showing increased yields in Idaho, but agree the crop size fits demand well.

Recent USDA estimates showing significantly increased 2013 Idaho potato yields have surprised industry leaders, though they anticipated the greater percentage of large tubers in the agency’s report.

Most agree the report confirms the high quality of the crop and that supply closely matches demand, both in Idaho and nationally.

The report finds Idaho potato farms yielded 421 hundredweight per acre, up from 412 hundredweight in 2012. Reported yields dropped by 10 hundredweight per acre to 520 hundredweight in southwestern Idaho, where growers say extreme heat limited production. But the state’s cooler production areas more than offset the difference, increasing average yields from 405 hundredweight per acre to 415 hundredweight.

The national average yield increased by 6 hundredweight to 429 hundredweight per acre. Washington yields increased by 5 hundredweight to 600 hundredweight per acre, Oregon yields dropped 5 hundredweight to 545 hundredweight per acre, and California’s yields increased by 15 hundredweight to 485 hundredweight per acre.

Due to a sizable reduction in planted acreage prompted by low prices throughout most of the year with the 2012 crop, total spud production is down, and potato prices are well above levels from this time last year. USDA estimates Idaho farmers planted 28,000 fewer spud acres, and U.S. acreage dropped by 54,500.

Jerry Wright, president and CEO of United Potato Growers of America, whose organization conducts an annual physical count of spud acres in major production areas, believes national estimates are in line, but Idaho’s planted acreage estimates are a couple of thousand acres too high. He also believes USDA inflated Idaho yields. During harvest, Wright said UPGA sent personnel to sample yields from hundreds of fields.

“We believe the total NASS production is probably slightly larger than is actually existing in Idaho,” Wright said. “In the end, everything we see across the country, and even in Idaho, is a very balanced crop, especially in the Russet market.”

Idaho Potato Commission President and CEO Frank Muir said the estimated crop size falls within a “sweet spot” and should market well. Nonetheless, estimated yields also exceeded his expectations.

“The yield was higher than anybody thought it would be. We thought some of the issues with water this year may have put a dent in it,” Muir said, attributing the apparent gains to resilient growers finding ways to cope with challenging weather.

IPC vice chairman Boyd Foster, an eastern Idaho farmer, said his yields were the same as last year, but his quality was much improved. He believes stronger prices this season should help him make up ground from last season’s losses.

“This is an exciting crop for Idaho to market. The supply should match the demand, it’s a good quality crop, and it will represent the state very well,” Foster said.

Regarding quality, the report shows culls declined from 1.1 to 1 percent of Idaho’s total crop, and the percent of Idaho potatoes over 14 ounces increased from 13.9 percent to 14.8 percent. Prices of potato cartons now range from $20-$22, about double what they were at this time last year, said University of Idaho Extension economist Paul Patterson.



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