(Dec. 21) With half of the 30-million cwt. drop in fall potato production coming from Idaho, shippers there have been keeping an eye on russet inventories, but growers in red potato production areas say their supplies will see a sharp decrease long before the 2006 crop is ready.

A Red River Valley shipper said some sheds there could be winding down production in mid-February, up to four months early. Some Skagit Valley, Wash., red potato shippers were nearing the end of their supplies in late December, and storm damage could delay Florida’s winter crop at least a month.

On Dec. 19, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported Minnesota/North Dakota round red U.S. One size A red potatoes were $14 for a 100-pound sack, which were $8 a year ago.

Fifty-pound sacks of size-B reds were $9-10. In Colorado’s San Luis Valley, baled five 10-pound consumer bags of round reds were $7-9, compared to $5 last season. The valley’s 50-pound bags of B-sized reds were $14, compared to $8-10 last season.

Cuts in production throughout all seasons brought average prices received by grower-shippers from January to October to $9.27 per cwt., a 25% increase from the same period in 2004, according to the USDA’s Economic Research Service.

Cooperatives’ efforts in several growing regions led to some of the fresh acreage cutbacks. In contrast, the research service reported that processing potatoes, which are sold mainly under contracts, saw only a 1% price increase in the first 10 months of 2005, to $5.20 per cwt.

The situation spells good news for the shippers, who will have product into the summer, when red potatoes, in particular, will be in short supply and high demand.

“I think come May/June, you’ll see a pretty big shortage of red potatoes,” said Cory Seim, general manager for Northern Valley Growers Inc., Hoople, N.D. “There will be only two plants up in the (Red River) Valley still running at that point. I’ve talked to some guys who will finish up in January and a few of the big ones will be done in February.”

Northern Valley Growers usually runs potatoes into June, but Seim said current supplies will take the shipper only through mid-February.

The USDA reported Dec. 1 potato stocks were 253.4 million cwt., a 6% drop from last year. The USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service on Dec. 15 reported North Dakota growers had 1.82 million cwt. of red potatoes on hand at the start of the month, compared to more than 2.5 million cwt. at the same time in 2004.

Mike Hevener, president for the South Florida Potato Growers Exchange Inc., Homestead, said a majority of the 1,000 acres of potatoes planted when Hurricane Wilma damaged crops on Oct. 24 had to be replanted. The south Florida potato crop had about 1,700 acres last year, according to the USDA, and the Hastings area had about 4,800 acres. Hevener said the Hastings crop received some damage and will also be a little later.

The southern crop, near Lake Okeechobee and Immokalee, usually starts harvest in mid to late January, Hevener said, but the storm set that back by at least a month.

With decreased red supplies from other areas, that could be a blessing for the new crop, Hevener said, which sometimes battles with a glut of storage potatoes.

“The Red River Valley and Washington state’s storage potatoes, once they’re finished, it opens a window of opportunity for us on the West Coast,” said Hevener, who markets potatoes for eight sheds. “At this point, there might be less volume coming out of Florida, but I don’t think it will be substantially less.”