RIGBY, Idaho — With harvest of norkotah russets well underway in mid-September, many Idaho growers, shippers and marketers said they were encouraged by the good yields, nice quality and size mix they saw.

But they said they were hesitant to make predictions about the overall potato crop since they had yet to dig any russet burbanks, the most widely grown variety in the state.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service issued its initial potato forecast July 11 of 345,000 acres planted in Idaho.

That’s up 8% from the 320,000 acres planted in 2011, according to the report.

Nationwide, potato acreage is expected to be about 5% higher this year, with total planted acreage estimated at 1.15 million. The figure includes plantings from all four season, with fall being about 1 million acres alone.

The July 11 estimate was based on mail surveys and follow-up phone interviews with growers, said Brad Early, an agricultural statistician with the service’s Boise office.

Idaho potato harvest kicks off on high note The USDA will issue an objective crop estimate Nov. 9 based on digging three hills of potatoes in two locations in selected fields just before harvest. The results are used to develop per-acre yields, he said.

In early September, Gary Garnand, owner of Garnand Marketing LLC, Twin Falls, Idaho, said the new norkotah crop he was handling had high yields and packouts.

But he pointed out that the harvest still had a long way to go, and growers hadn’t dug their first russet burbank.

“We’re a long way from harvesting being finished,” Garnand said. “We could have an early frost, an early snow. There’s just a lot of things that could change the crop between now and the end of October when we get it to consumers.”

With all of those unknowns, he said he wasn’t going to guess whether the USDA estimate was close.

Ryan Wahlen, sales manager for Pleasant Valley Potatoes Inc., said in mid-September the Aberdeen-based grower-shipper also had seen good quality and size from the norkotah crop.

The four area farming families that market their potatoes through Pleasant Valley began harvest Labor Day weekend.

“I think with our norkotahs, we’re probably a little bit larger than last season, but our burbanks, especially those that were frozen in June — we had that late-season frost — are probably smaller than last year and the yields will probably be a little less.”

Although he expected individual norkotah tuber size to be larger, Wahlen said it wouldn’t affect the overall size profile dramatically.

Rigby Produce Inc., Rigby, Idaho, finished up with the 2011 crop Aug. 10 and began harvesting this year’s 2012 crop Aug. 13 for a seamless transition, said Ryan Mickelsen, general manager.

Rigby Produce, which only ships russets, began the season with russet norkotahs and will move into the later-season russet burbank as harvest progresses.

As of mid-September, Mickelsen said he was pleased with the crop.

“From what we’ve seen, the quality has been pretty nice and the size of the potato is pretty nice — possibly larger than we’ve had the last year or two,” he said. “We’ve seen a lot of carton sizes and overall just a good crop so far.”