(March 31) Average to high demand and a depleted supply of white potatoes from the desert have driven up spring prices for the commodity.

Shipper-growers reported prices as high as $24 for 50-pound cartons of size A whites toward the end of March. Some shippers said the prices were the highest they could remember.

“Prices are very strong right now,” said Tom Franconi Sr., owner of Mazzei-Franconi Co., Edison, Calif.

At about the same time last year, 50-pound cartons of whites could be found for $14, down $8 from the same time the year before.

On the last day of March, Ron Lehr, president of Lehr Bros. Inc., Edison, said 50-pound cartons of yellow potatoes were fetching about $18-20, and the less-in-demand reds were selling for about $8-10.

Last year, in mid-April, cartons of yellow size A were $16.

Depleting supplies left over from the desert winter deal in the Imperial Valley and a high demand for white potatoes over the winter months is what shippers were attributing this year’s high prices to. Shippers said the crops from the desert deal were light this year, especially on the white variety.

CHANGING

The supply situation could be turning around with the coming of the spring potato deal out of the Kern County region in California.

Shippers there said the weather had been phenomenal for the growing season and most shippers expected to start their shipments at least one week early this year.

“At the moment, it looks like we will begin shipping early, the last week of April,” said Harley Phillips, salesman at Johnston Farms, Edison.

He said his company would normally begin shipping spring potatoes around the first of May.

“The growing season has been absolutely perfect,” Phillips said. “There’s been no violent weather and only one really hard shower.”

He said that the shower didn’t have any substantial, negative impact on the fields.

HARVEST

All shipper-growers reported that the white potatoes had been in strong demand all winter. Because of lower demand, red varieties are in larger supply.

For the spring deal, whites will be harvested first, followed by reds and yellows about a week later.

Phillips said he expected full production to come about the third week of May for Johnston Farms, while Franconi figured his company would begin peak shipping about the first week of June.

He said that’s when they begin to harvest their russets.

Lehr estimated that his company would be in full swing come the first week of May.

Franconi said he expected the quality of the product to be excellent, in large partly because of the excellent weather the region has had for the growing season.

“We’ve had no freezes, and the temperatures have been above normal,” Franconi said.

“This will probably be the last water they get,” Phillips said, referring to some irrigation the fields were receiving late in March.

He said workers were digging around in the field every day to check quality and progress. He reported appearance was excellent.