Potatoes from Colorado’s San Luis Valley began shipping early this year, with some shippers digging by the week of Aug. 27.

Worley & McCullough Inc., Monte Vista, Colo., began harvesting norkotahs Aug. 27, said Trampas McCormick, manager.

“The quality is excellent,” McCormick said. “Overall, I think we’ll see pretty good quality and average yields.”

Mother Nature sent growers on a bit of a roller coaster, McCormick said, but in the end, brought them safely to harvest.

“It was a little hot in June, but it cooled down and August turned out to be nice,” he said.

Some fields were expected to yield big spuds, while other fields hit by hail may produce smaller potatoes, McCormick said. Overall, he expected a normal size profile with a good mix of sizes.

Center, Colo.-based Canon Potato Co. began digging the week of Sept. 3 and expected to begin shipping in volume by mid- to late September, said David Tonso, co-owner.

“We’re trying to clean up our Greeley deal” before ramping up valley supplies, Tonso said Aug. 28. “It’s kind of a juggling game.”

Tonso reported good quality at the beginning of the valley deal.

“I’m very happy with what I’ve seen,” he said. “There’s plenty of size, but it’s very uniform. It looks like a real good year.”

Tonso expected average yields from his fields, though he had heard that other valley growers were reporting below-average yields.

Statewide, acreage should wind up being similar to last year, about 57,000 acres, Tonso said. The valley’s acreage was projected to be up slightly this year, but hail and drought kept it at around last year’s total.

After a slow start in late August, valley growers were expected to kick things into high gear by about the week of Sept. 10, said Steve Tillman, manager of Monte Vista Potato Grower Co-op
Association, Monte Vista.

“They’re doing a little digging now, very scattered,” Tillman said Aug. 28. “It will be a couple of weeks yet before everybody’s in the thick of it.”

The co-op expects to open its shed about Oct. 1, a normal start, Tillman said. Acreage is similar to last season for co-op growers, he said.

Good range of sizes

Bancroft, Wis-based RPE Inc. expects good quality and size profile for its San Luis Valley potato crop this season, said Randy Shell, vice president of marketing and new business development.

“There is a good range of sizes to meet all of our customers’ needs this year on russets, reds and yellow potatoes for foodservice and retail,” he said. “The quality of the crop is excellent.”

In August, RPE entered into a sales partnership with Lynn McCullough and Jeffery McCullough, who own Monte Vista-based Spud Seller Inc., Spud Grower Farms LLC and Lynn McCullough Farms LLC.

The deal makes RPE the exclusive marketer for Spud Seller and Spud Grower Farms.

In August the valley crop was running about five days ahead of schedule for Center, Colo.-based Aspen Produce LLC, said Jed Ellithorpe, a partner and marketing director.

By the end of the month, Aspen expected to be up and running with decent volumes.

Heat and drought took the edge off what was otherwise excellent growing weather, said Bob Noffsinger, a salesman for Center-based Skyline Potato Co.

“There wasn’t a lot of severe weather, but we’ve dealt with dry, hot weather,” Noffsinger said. “It’s just an average season.”

Skyline’s 2012 acreage is comparable to the past two or three years, Noffinger said.

Aspen’s acreage is up slightly, and Ellithorpe said he also expects slightly higher yields in 2012. Industrywide, overall acreage could be down slightly this season because of the drought, he said.

Ellithorpe reported good quality and size heading into harvest.

On Aug. 7, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $10 for 50-pound cartons of russets 40-70 from Idaho, down from $17 last year at the same time.

Storage hanging on

Some shippers are hanging on to storage spuds longer than usual because it’s much easier to manage their temperatures, and there is no guarantee all old-crop spuds will be out of the pipeline by the time new-crop potatoes begin shipping, Ellithorpe said.

“If you’re going to be messing around this time of year with old crop, there’s a chance you may not sell all of it,” he said.

That said, he expects a fairly good transition from old-crop to new-crop valley potatoes this year.

Normally, storage spuds are cleaned out by early August, Noffsinger said. That’s not the case this year, but he said there wouldn’t be enough to clog the pipeline once new-crop spuds begin shipping.

Quality was looking good as of the week of Aug. 6, Ellithorpe said.

“We’ve been digging around, and we’re really pleased with what we see,” he said. “It looks like an excellent crop.”

Early russet varieties were sizing well, Ellithorpe said.

The valley did suffer some hail damage, but nothing out of the ordinary, Ellithorpe said.