Weather could put dent in 2011-12 U.S. potato cropSummer potato supplies will be short, but they should be sufficient to fill retail shelves until fall harvests begin.

And thanks in large part to Mother Nature, the 2011-12 crop should be of manageable size.

Those were among the issues discussed at the Salt Lake City-based United Potato Growers of America’s annual crop transition conference in Bloomington, Minn., June 9.

Spud markets have been strong for months, and some shippers will likely run out of storage supplies before the new-crop harvests.

But Lee Frankel, United Potato’s president and chief executive officer, was optimistic that shippers and retailers would continue the good supply management work they’ve done so far this spring.

“The industry has done a fairly good job of adjusting prices and metering shipment levels,” Frankel said. “The outlook is (that the market is) pretty close to where it needs to be.”

Bruce Huffaker, editor of the North American Potato Market News and a United Potato consultant, agreed.

“There won’t be as many as last year, but there will probably be plenty to get through the season without things getting too wild,” Huffaker said.

Larger-than-expected yields in the Florida summer deal softened markets some, Frankel said. Summer California, North Carolina, Virginia and other deals also could affect markets.

One of the main themes of the conference was that shippers and retailers need to communicate and remain vigilant this summer to keep supplies and markets steady, Frankel said.

“Retailers who stay in close contact with shippers tend to outperform” retailers who don’t, Frankel said.

Shippers at the Bloomington conference said many fall harvests would begin 10 to 14 days later than normal, Huffaker said.

“If the new crop is delayed significantly, there could be a couple weeks where the market would tighten up,” Frankel said.

Preliminary United Potato estimates indicated that U.S. spud acreage could be 3 to 5% above last year, Huffaker said, but both he and Frankel said it was too early to make any definite predictions.

Because of abnormally cold, wet planting weather in northern growing regions, that projection will likely come down, as some fields go unplanted, Frankel said.

“The water cooler talk now is that the fresh crop could be about the same, up a little in some areas, down in others,” Frankel said.

More definite acreage estimates should be available in late June, he said.

Yields also could be below normal in the upcoming season because of the cold, wet weather, Frankel said. Yields in the 2010-11 season were about 4% below normal.