Potato growers and shippers planning to bypass a potential repeat of the current volume-heavy and price-light market are advised not to turn to specialty varieties as a solution.

“The fundamental concepts apply across the board,” said Lee Frankel, president and chief executive officer of the Salt Lake City-based United Potato Growers of America, which was created a few years ago as a way to keep growers apprised of market conditions and to keep production under control.

“There’s different aspects of specific supply within reds, for instance,” Frankel said.

“The B sizes are relatively tighter in the market compared to the A sizes. The same concept (goes) for them of not building inventories for products that are not selling.”

As it is, red-, purple- and yellow-skinned varieties and fingerlings are attracting plenty of attention, said Duane Maatz, executive director of the Antigo-based Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association.

“Some of these varieties are being produced on the seed level, and there is a fair amount of exploration,” he said.

“I think there’s an awful lot of interest in it. I don’t think anybody is going to jump in front of the market, but we have growers who are making that consideration very seriously. I think our proximity to markets gives us an advantage.”

Tim Feit, the association’s director of promotions and consumer education, said there are already plenty of specialty varieties coming out of the Badger State.

“Most people don’t know this, but Wisconsin grows more varieties of potato than any other state,” he said.

“The majority is russets, reds, yellows, whites. Some people grow specialty potatoes of different colors. They grow fingerlings.”

Growers choose one variety over another for certain functions or properties, such as disease resistance, Feit said.

“There are a lot of differences in strength of varieties,” he said. “One thing Wisconsin does an excellent job at is our growers are so progressive and trying to find a way to make their operations more effective.”

Growers on Prince Edward Island have developed a strong business in non-russet varieties, said Greg Donald, general manager of the Charlottetown-based Prince Edward Island Potato Board.

“We have some packing sheds and farms in particular that have made quite a bit of business around creamers and fingerling varieties,” Donald said.

“There’s no doubt there’s a difference in the price on those products than some of the more traditional pack sizes and varieties.”

Colorado has seen an increase in volume of specialties, but they remain a relatively small part of the market, said Jim Ehrlich, executive director of the Monte Vista-based Colorado Potato Administrative Committee.

“We’re seeing some growth in that, but I think the growers that are involved in that now are doing a good job,” he said. “It’s still a niche market.”