Potato farmers bounce back

Idaho potato growers have been bouncing back from an early freeze that in some locations delayed harvest and raised quality concerns.

Farmers say some potatoes are a bit smaller but the quality is high as they harvest Idaho’s signature $1 billion crop.

In the state’s western region, farmer Doug Gross of Wilder, Idaho, said companywide yields so far exceed the five-year average.

His potatoes so far have smaller size profiles; the cool spring caused a heavy set that resulted in more potatoes — each of which was smaller than usual — per plant, he said. “Quality is quite good.”

Idaho’s crop was worth $1.03 billion last year, up 5% from 2017, according to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service. About 315,000 acres were planted to potatoes and yielded an average of 450 hundredweight per acre, up from the previous two years. Total production was 141 million cwt.

Brett Jensen, who farms in the Idaho Falls-Hamer area in the east, plans to start harvest Sept. 23.

“I expect yield to be down from last year, but I think quality will be very good,” the Idaho Potato Commission board member said.

Jensen said a lack of extreme summer heat helped quality. Lower yields are likely, largely a result of three June frosts that dragged on the crop.

As for potato size profiles, “we’re not sure until we get into it,” he said. “There are always some surprises.”

Kevin Stanger, president of Wada Farms in the Idaho Falls area, on Sept. 13 said harvest is on or slightly behind schedule after rain delayed planting in spots.

Potato sizing recently looks closer to average after being off a bit in the first couple weeks of harvest, he said.

“A few guys will let the crop grow a little bit longer to see if they could get some size,” Stanger said.

“Quality generally looks pretty good coming out of the field,” Stanger said. “The key will be how the potatoes will store and how they will hold up (in storage). We are just getting started into heavy harvest.”

With three to four weeks of harvesting left this year, “based on normal fall conditions, things look pretty good,” he said. “But you just never know if Mother Nature is going to throw you a curveball.”

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