(April 18) The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported April 1 storage potato stocks from major producing states dropped 2% from 2006 storage numbers, and were down 12% from April 2005, but shippers said that is not because of gangbuster sales.

“The market's been pretty stagnant all season,” said Scott Nesbit, sales manager at Produce Country Sales LLC, Warden, Wash., which markets the Tatoes brand.

The first two weeks of April, however, movement started to pick up, Nesbit said.

“We've seen a little more price firming as some of the other areas are finally raising their prices up, which has helped,” he said.

In Colorado, movement has been steady, said Richard David, salesman at Aspen Produce LLC, Center, Colo.

The market has been mixed, David said.

“It's holding pretty good,” he said. “Polys (bags of potatoes) kind of weakened a little, but cartons are strong.”

The USDA reported baled 10-pound bags of russet norkotahs in the San Luis Valley, Colo., district selling for $5.25-6. In the Twin Falls-Burley, Idaho, district, baled 10-pound bags were selling for $4.75 and in the Columbia Basin, Wash., district baled 10-pound bags were selling for $5-5.50, which was similar to last year in mid-April, when baled 10-pound bags were selling for $4.50-6 in all districts.

Fifty-pound cartons of size 40-80s were selling for $10-10.50 in Idaho, $8 in Colorado, and $7.50-8.50 in Washington. In mid-April 2006 they were selling for $9-11 in most districts.

North Dakota’s/Minnesota Red River district bucked the nationwide trend, with stocks up significantly over 2005. In North Dakota, stocks were up about 36%, according to the USDA’s National Agriculture Statistics Service, and Minnesota's stocks were up 24%.

Those numbers don’t indicate a big acreage increase, said Ted Kreis, marketing director for the Northern Plains Potato Growers Association, East Grand Forks, Minn.

“The reason we're way up is because last year most of our sheds had shut down by this time because we had a very poor crop," he said. "This year, we had a very normal-sized crop.”

Kreis said he expects storage stocks of red potatoes to last through June.