Posted: Thursday, August 23, 2012 11:00 AM
John O'Connell/Capital Press
Severino Carrillo unloads Atlantic chipping spuds dug from the Fort Hall Indian Reservation at R and G Potato Co. in American Falls. Officials at R and G say it appears to be a good year for chipping potatoes, though the Idaho spud crop overall seems to be highly variable.
Early season harvest shows variety in PNW spud crop
By JOHN O'CONNELL
As they commence harvesting early season varieties, Idaho potato growers anticipate a hot summer will contribute to highly variable yields and quality, especially in the eastern part of the state.
Dan Hargraves, executive director of Southern Idaho Potato Cooperative, predicts Idaho yields will be down, resulting in more manageable crop production during a year in which growers stepped up planting.
"It's safe to say with this hot weather, we've taken the top off of this thing, and I don't think we're going to have any kind of record yield," Hargraves said. "The last few years we've had real consistent quality throughout the state. This year I think there's going to be more variability."
Heat has also kept yields in check in Washington and Oregon, where the spud harvest is in full swing.
"It's a decent crop, but it's a little bit small," said Bill Brewer, executive director of the Oregon Potato Commission. "On the fresh side we thought we were going to be above average ... but the heat has really taken its toll on especially the Russets."
Brewer said some growers have been docked for low solids -- a measurement of starch content in spuds.
Chris Voigt, executive director of the Washington Potato Commission, said his state's yields and quality have been average.
"We've had a lot of high heat lately, and I think it's taking the top end off of the yield," Voigt said.
Growers within the Fort Hall Indian Reservation in southeast Idaho began digging Atlantics, a midseason chipping variety, on Aug. 5, said Garn Theobald, chairman of the board of R&G Potato Co. in American Falls, Idaho.
"The crop is early and it looks like it's going to be fairly large on the chip end," Theobald said. "I don't see any issues with heat causing any problem from the chip part."
Idaho growers are also optimistic about heat-tolerant varieties such as Shepody, Umatilla Russet and Ranger Russet. They worry the state's most popular spud, Russet Burbank, could be down.
In eastern Idaho, American Falls grower Klaren Koompin predicts yields will be down 20 hundredweight sacks per acre.
"It's been extremely hot for the Burbank since the middle of June. We haven't had that now for four years, and we've had pretty much record yields for four years," Koompin said.
Jim Tiede, chairman of the Idaho Potato Commission, has lately cut back on watering Burbanks on his farm in American Falls, believing the heat has slowed their bulking.
"I think it's taken some of the estimates of the higher yields away," Tiede said.
Tiede said heat-stressed Burbanks are also prone to sugar ends -- high sugar concentrations at the ends of potatoes, causing unevenly colored fries.
Doug Gross, of Wilder, Idaho, has started harvesting Rangers and Russet Norkotahs and has been pleased to reap average yields.
"I think it's going to be variable even here," Gross said. "We have concerns about the Burbanks, how they might finish."