(Nov. 5) Despite heavy summer rains, the Red River Valley will see volumes of red potatoes similar to last year, shippers say.

Though some acreage was lost this season to precipitation in June and July, plantings were up from last season. Surviving yields defied expectations for this season’s crop, whose harvest ended largely by mid-October.

“Overall, the quality of the crop is going to be very marketable,” said Paul Dolan, general manager for grower-shipper Associated Potato Growers Inc., Grand Forks, N.D. The company was at about 75% to 85% of its volume capacity, about the same as last year, he said.

The valley has less of the smaller B-size potatoes on the market, which was reflected in early November f.o.b.s.

Size B potatoes were selling for cwt. prices of $23 for product in 50-pound sacks, compared to about $12 for the same time last year, said Dan Smith, sales manager, Ryan Potato Co., East Grand Forks, Minn. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported f.o.b.s in the $20-22 range.

Meanwhile, Smith said cwt. f.ob.s for A-size spuds were at $13.50, compared to $12 last season.

Smith said he attributed the decrease in Bs partly to the crop simply sizing up better. Also, growers focused less on the red norland variety, which tend to produce more Bs, after heavy volumes weakened the market last season, he said.

Dolan said smaller potatoes also reached larger sizes because rains prevented growers from killing off plants earlier. Steve Tweten, president of NoKota Packers Inc., Buxton, N.D., said a lot of it came from growers expecting lower markets and letting potatoes mature more.

Although shippers have seen stronger pricing this season, Dolan said movement has been off by 10% to 20%.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported 2002 movement to date at 200,000 cwt. as of Nov. 3, compared to 228,000 cwt. the same time last season.

Some help could come from ads for the Thanksgiving holiday, which falls a little later than usual this season, Smith said. He said he expects movement to pick up for Thanksgiving and Christmas before possibly hitting a post-holiday lull.

“The reds market has been really strong, and I think it’s going to stay that way,” Smith said.

The russet market also could bear influence on the reds, shippers say. Though production of russets looks higher than last season, talk within the industry is that processors may need to tap into open-market supplies, Smith said.

The processors reportedly went into the fall with low inventories and went through a lot of acreage with low yields, he said. Dolan said that besides chips, the russet flake market could also draw supplies of fresh-market russets, which in turn could affect reds.

The USDA will release its first potato production report of the season the morning of Nov. 12.

The report could affect pricing, but by now, the market already reflects the findings, Dolan said. Tweten said the report likely will just confirm what buyers and sellers have been talking about on their own.

They have a good idea what lies ahead, he said.