Markets were expected to hold steady on the East Coast and be strong on the West Coast for new-crop potatoes in June, grower-shippers said.
By the week of June 7, Lake Wales, Fla.-based Mack Farms Inc. was still shipping a few yellow potatoes out of South Florida, but for the most part, the deal had shipped to the northern half of the state, said Arnold Mack, the company’s president and chief executive officer.
Meanwhile, on the other coast, Los Angeles-based Progressive Produce Corp. was expected to start shipping new-crop russets from the Bakersfield, Calif.-area the week of June 14, about a week later than usual, said Gary Askenaizer, the company’s product and food safety manager.
Mack Farms, which repacks spuds from other regions year-round, also was shipping red potatoes from California in early June, and Mack said North Carolina should begin shipping reds, whites and yellows June 20-25.
The North Carolina deal should last three or four weeks, after which East Coast production will switch to Virginia, Maryland and Delaware, Mack said.
Growers on Virginia’s Eastern Shore are expected to begin harvest the week of June 20 or June 27, according to a June 8 U.S. Department of Agriculture report. Growers report good quality but a delay of about a week.
Even with the week delay, russets at the beginning of the Bakersfield deal would likely be smaller than buyers would like, with sizing peaking on 80s, 90s and 100s, Askenaizer said.
“The quality’s good, but the size is the big question mark,” he said. “Growers are holding back to try to get size. That’s where the big money is.”
The main culprit has been growing temperatures, Askenaizer said. May was the coolest on record in the Bakersfield area, he said.
By late June or early July, however, sizing should be returning to normal, with more 50s, 60s and 70s from California in the market, he said.
Pricing in Bakersfield could start in the $15-16 range for a 50-pound carton, about $4 higher that storage russets from Idaho, Washington, Wisconsin and other states, Askenaizer said.
Whether that price holds depends on whether retailers are willing to pay a premium for new-crop spuds.
On June 7, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $10.45-12.45 for size-A red potatoes from Kern County, Calif., comparable to last year at the same time.
Fifty-pound cartons of russets size 40-90 from Northern California/Oregon’s Klamath Basin were $9-11, down from $10-13 last year at the same time.
The Northern Florida crop was running about three to four weeks late because of cool spring weather, which could be a cause for concern as June progresses, Mack said.
“(The northern deal is) living on borrowed time, but if they stay away from the heavy rains, they should get out,” he said June 7. “Most should ship in the next 10 to 14 days.”
Markets were steady and fair throughout the southern Florida deal, with size-B reds, whites and yellows falling off in late May and early June, he said. Size-A reds were the only variety holding steady on price, he said.
Nevertheless, Mack did not characterize early June markets as low, and he did not expect them to change much in the coming weeks.
“If they go any lower I would classify them as ‘low,’ but they look to hold in the neighborhood of where they are now,” he said. “I think we’ll be in pretty good shape.”
Northern Florida acreage was comparable to last year’s acreage, but because of excessive rains last year, volumes should be up this year, Mack said.