Russet prices still low as harvest nearsStubbornly low russet prices left marketers scrambling to clear the pipeline before new crop spuds begin shipping in August.

On July 15, 50-pound cartons of Idaho russets 40-100s were $6-7.50, down from $16-18 last year at the same time, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The causes of the decline are hard to nail down, said Ralph Schwartz, vice president of marketing, sales and innovation for Idaho Falls, Idaho-based Potandon Produce LLC.

What’s less mysterious, he said, is how often something like this has occurred in recent years.

“It’s unprecedented the way they’ve fallen,” he said. “There’s a lot of speculation about why it’s happening.”

For marketers in Idaho and other states, it means they need to hustle extra hard to get old crop spuds moved before the 2014 harvests begin, Schwartz said.

“Everyone’s in a full rush to get the old crop cleaned up — not just in Idaho, all over.”

That may not be easy, given that some states are projected to ship old crop well into August, and Washington and Oregon will start harvesting russets in early August, with Wisconsin “right behind,” Schwartz said.

“I don’t see any shortfall this year,” he said.

Bancroft, Wis.-based RPE Inc. reported “fairly steady” demand in July and anticipated a good finish for storage crops in all growing areas, said Randy Shell, the company’s vice president of marketing and new business development.

“Right now the market seems stable, and we anticipate it remaining fairly stable in the next few weeks, with maybe some movement on sizes that are limited during the transition,” Shell said. “New crop could command a slight premium at the start, which is typical.”

Depending on the growing area, new crop russets will begin between July 23 and the first week of August, Shell said.

“Growing conditions have been very good in the major growing areas, and we expect to see an excellent crop with a good mix of sizing. There will be plenty of opportunities to promote russet potatoes for the upcoming season.”

Hot temperatures in the Northwest could finish off some storage potatoes sooner than usual, Schwartz said. At best, though, that would provide only a slight bump in prices he said.

Some Idaho russets could begin shipping the week of Aug. 10, though Potandon is targeting the week of Aug. 17 as a more likely start, Schwartz said. He said the company will bide its time to make sure the transition is a smooth one.

“We’re comfortable with what we have left to sell, and think we’ll make a good transition from old to new.”

From what Schwartz has heard, buyers are eagerly anticipating the 2014 crop.

“The new crop is projected to high-quality,” he said July 15. “There are some reds and other varieties out there already, and the quality is good. We had a great season out of Arizona, and just started harvesting yellows in Washington yesterday.”