(May 15) Shippers expect potato prices to stay firm as they clean up the rest of the 2001 fall crop, especially in light of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s report that May 1 stocks were down 17% from last season.

“We should have a hell of a deal,” said Larry Sieg, sales manager of Sunfresh Inc., Royal City, Wash., after hearing the news. Lighter production from summer deals also could bolster markets ahead, shippers say.

All the same, there was a sense of foreboding among shippers. History shows that strong markets one season can lead to heavy plantings the next.

Kevin Stanger, vice president of marketing for Wada Farms Potatoes Inc., Idaho Falls, Idaho, is among those who believes the industry’s acreage likely will increase for the fall 2002 crop.

“I don’t think we’ll get crazy like we did a couple years ago and have that much excess,” he said. But Stanger said his guess was that plantings would increase at least slightly.

Estimated acreage for the fall 2002 crop will be available in the USDA’s July 11 crop production report, said Thomas Cooper, a market news reporter in Idaho Falls.

In mid-May, the USDA reported the following cwt. f.o.b.s for 50-pound cartons of Idaho burbanks: 50s $19, 60s $22, 70s $24.

The same time last year, the f.o.b.s were at $6-7 for 50s, 60s $7.50-9 and 70s mostly $10.

Unlike most states, Wisconsin and North Dakota showed heavier May 1 stocks for 2002 than last season.

The USDA showed Wisconsin’s stocks at 4 million cwt., compared to 3.3 million in 2001, an increase of 21%.

Wysocki said, at the most, Wisconsin had 2.5 million cwt. Of that, about 500,000 cwt. was for fresh markets, he said.

North Dakota’s stocks were up 12%, according to the USDA.

Stanger said the overall 2002 fall crop could increase partly because the Klamath Falls region in Oregon has water again this year.

Meanwhile, Jerry Smith, president of Blanfort Inc., Blanca, Colo., said both Idaho and the San Luis Valley were enduring droughts.

“I don’t know how much those factors are going to affect the planted acreage,” he said.