Spud crop larger in more ways than one

John OÕConnell/Capital Press Potatoes are harvested from a field in Aberdeen, located in southeast Idaho. Statewide, yields were up by 4 percent and total production was up 12 percent, according to a new report.

Officials say increased supply shouldn't hurt prices

By JOHN O'CONNELL

Capital Press

Idaho potato growers saw increases in yields, tuber sizes and total production from last fall, according to a report released Nov. 9 by the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Statewide, the 2011 spud harvest totaled 127 million hundredweight, up 12 percent from last fall's production of 113 million hundredweight. NASS agricultural statistician Brad Early explained much of Idaho's increase was driven by an 8.5 percent increase in acres planted, mostly to satisfy contracts with processors following a short 2010 crop year.

A 4 percent increase in yields also added to production numbers. Idaho's average yield was 398 hundredweight per acre, up 14 hundredweight.

"I'm really shocked that it came in higher. I thought it was going to be right about the same," Dan Hargraves, executive director of the Southern Idaho Potato Cooperative, said of the yield increase. "I think eastern Idaho is what pushed it up."

Nationwide, fall production increased by 5 percent, with significant gains reported in the Pacific Northwest. Washington saw a 12 percent increase. Oregon's spud harvest was up 16 percent.

Industry officials are optimistic the increased supply won't hurt prices.

"I think there's a market for all of these potatoes at a decent price. They certainly aren't going to have any trouble moving this crop," Hargraves said.

Frank Muir, president and CEO of the Idaho Potato Commission, said the commission anticipated the larger crop and plans to adjust programs accordingly.

"We're not announcing those yet. That will be released through our shippers," Muir said. "It's one of the best looking crops we've seen in some time. I think overall, this will be a very good year for Idaho growers."

United Potato Growers of Idaho spokeswoman Britt Raybould added, "A good portion of the increase in Idaho production is headed towards processors, as confirmed by NASS's Oct. 1 report that processing was up 75 percent last year. The higher yield numbers in NASS's report are most likely connected to improved growing conditions in the latter half of the season."

The most popular variety in Idaho was the Russet Burbank, planted in 57.8 percent of the state's fields.

This year's crop included 6 percent more size No. 1 potatoes -- those with diameters of at least 2 inches. Furthermore, 25.6 percent of the 2011 spuds weighed at least 10 ounces, compared with 20 percent from last year. Due to the high volume of large potatoes, American Falls grower Klaren Koompin noted 4- to 6-ounce spuds are comparable in price now to larger sizes.

"We had a lot of No. 1s in the crop, and the size profile looks beautiful," Koompin said. "Due to the good September, if people let them grow it's a good crop. Contracts were not paying enough, but with the yields we'll probably be OK."

American Falls grower Jim Tiede added, "A 4 percent (yield increase) is very manageable. We can market that at a nice return. I think we're right on the money."

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