Idaho potatoes

The annual Larry Branen Idaho Ag Summit will be this month in Boise.

EAGLE, Idaho — Idaho potato growers are optimistic that their down market may turn around in 2017 following the recent release of estimates showing a significant decrease in the state’s planted spud acreage.

Idaho growers planted 310,000 acres of spuds this season, down from 325,000 acres last season, according to a report released June 30 by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Another recent estimate released by United Potato Growers of Idaho, compiled by personnel who visited each potato field for better accuracy, placed the state’s crop at 307,000 acres, down from 322,000 acres.

The NASS report also shows a decrease in total U.S. fall acres, estimated at about 908,000 acres, down from about 921,000 acres. NASS estimated the No. 2 potato state, Washington, kept its potato acreage flat, at 170,000 acres. Oregon’s 38,000 planted acres were down 1,000 acres from last season, and California planted 1,400 fewer acres, with a total fall crop of 6,500 acres.

Though Idaho’s fresh shipments have been well ahead of the previous year’s pace, grower returns from a bumper 2016 crop have remained poor.

“I was there with all of the potato guys when they got the news from Idaho. Everybody was pretty excited,” said Idaho Potato Commissioner Randy Hardy, an Oakley fresh grower who attended the recent National Potato Council summer meeting in Denver.

Hardy, who heads Sun Valley Potatoes Inc., said the 18 fresh growers who supply his company cut their potato acres by about 6 percent. In his area, he’s seen a shift toward more dry beans and alfalfa.

“Anything down was probably good news, but I don’t think anybody thought it would be down this far,” Hardy said.

In addition to the acreage reduction, Hardy said it’s likely that slower progress of the potato crop — and the potential for quality challenges due to fluctuating temperatures — will further tighten supply and help prices. Rainy spring weather throughout the state delayed planting in many major potato production regions, and low soil temperatures slowed growth. Hardy believes the current crop has made up ground from the slow start, but is still likely 10 days behind last year’s development. IPC President and CEO Frank Muir shares his opinion about the yield outlook and believes the acreage report has the state’s growers “lined up” for a better year.

“Given the strong demand Idaho has demonstrated this season versus a year ago, combined with what is expected to be a lower supply given reduced acres and average or less than trend-line yield, the new season should be a profitable one for Idaho growers,” Muir said.

Chuck Stadick, executive director of Southern Idaho Potato Cooperative, the bargaining unit for Idaho processed industry growers, considers the report to be a step in the right direction.

“That’s a good chunk (of reduction), but it should be down around 300,000 or less,” Stadick said.

Idaho Potato Commissioner James Hoff, a fresh grower from near Idaho Falls, said growers in his area planted close to the usual schedule, but he anticipates production will be typical this season, following a banner year for yields in 2016.

“I think it’s a really favorable report for us,” Hoff said. “The acreage numbers we’re showing should be very manageable, and that should return a reasonable profit to farmers.”

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