Idaho potato harvest

Potatoes are harvested in Pingree, Idaho. State legislators are weighing a bill specifying how processors and grower cooperatives should negotiate prices.

BOISE — Idaho’s most famous crop, potatoes, set a production value record in 2017 despite spud growers planting 15,000 fewer acres than they did in 2016.

The total value of Idaho’s 2017 potato crop was estimated at $1.19 billion by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. That’s 23 percent higher than last year’s total of $968 million and 14 percent higher than the previous record of $1.04 billion set in 2011.

Idaho leads the nation in potato production.

Idaho’s 600 potato farmers harvested 309,000 acres of spuds last year, down 5 percent from 324,000 acres in 2016. But the average price for potatoes grown in Idaho was $9.05 per hundredweight in 2017, up 30 percent from $6.95 in 2016.

“Fresh prices rebounded pretty good and returns are pretty good. I think it was a pretty good year for spud growers,” said American Falls grower Jim Tiede.

Aberdeen potato grower Ritchey Toevs said that one of the takeaway lessons from the 2017 potato crop is that “with only a slight reduction in supply, we were able to increase the value significantly.”

“It shows that getting prices up a little bit makes a huge difference,” said Idaho Potato Commission President and CEO Frank Muir.

The higher prices and production value are welcome news following several years of lackluster prices, said Oakley farmer Randy Hardy. But he also said there is some concern about growers over-planting this year in response to the better prices.

“When potato prices are up, there is always that tendency to want to make the most of it,” he said. “I’m hopeful that growers will be disciplined enough to stay at the level we’ve been at....”

Tiede said he hopes potato farmers “will do some judicious thinking when they are deciding their planting intentions” for 2018.

Muir said the IPC will be prepared to help move whatever amount of spuds Idaho growers produce this year.

“That’s our mission: whatever potatoes are planted and harvested, we’re going to figure out how to move them,” he said. “We always anticipate and plan accordingly.”

According to NASS, total U.S. potato production was valued at $4.56 billion in 2017, up 15 percent from 2016.

Washington ranks No. 2 in the nation in potato production and its 2017 crop was valued at $888 million, up 9 percent over the state’s 2016 crop. The average potato price in Washington last year was $8.97 per hundredweight, up from $7.70 in 2016.

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