While the russet is still king in Oregon and Washington, more and more growers are turning to varietals to diversify their product offerings and tap into new markets.
Fresh potato acreage could drop about 5% this year in Oregon, said Bill Brewer, executive director of the Portland-based Oregon Potato Commission.
Most of the acreage taken out will likely be russets, he said. Fresh red and yellow acreage will likely be similar to last year, he said.
But not too much should be read into that.
“I don’t think it’s a trend,” he said. “Growers are just trying to equal their supplies.”
This fall, the commission will embark on a trade mission to Taiwan, Brewer said.
The majority of Beaver State spuds shipped there are russets, he said. One goal of the trip is to stimulate demand for other varieties, including new colored varieties.
On tap for Oregon growers in the near future are two new varieties created at the state’s variety development program, Brewer said.
The pelisse is a “purple/purple” — purple skin, purple flesh — that cooks and keeps its color well, he said.
The pelisse and the Owhyee, a new russet variety, could be on retail shelves in a couple of years, Brewer said.
Potandon Produce LLC, Idaho Falls, Idaho, has maintained its russet acreage this year but added more colored acreage, said Larry Sieg, general manager of the company’s Pasco, Wash., office.
Flavor is driving increased demand for two of the company’s proprietary varietals — the Klondike Rose (red with yellow flesh) and the Klondike Gold (yellow with yellow flesh) — and other nonrussets, Sieg said.
“Each year they’re catching on more and more,” Sieg said. “They’re like candy. They’re very, very good.”
Particularly people who grew up in the Midwest and on the East Coast eating a lot of red potatoes are target audiences for new nonrusset varieties, said Sieg, who himself grew up in North Dakota’s Red River Valley.
Varietals could be key to the industry’s future success, Sieg said. While potato volumes may never return to their old levels, the value of the crop is likely to hold steady or even go up because more expensive varietals will make up a bigger percentage of grower-shippers’ product rosters, he said.
Varietals are gaining on russets in the Northwest, but not by huge leaps and bounds, said Dave Long, chief executive officer of the Othello, Wash.-based United Co-op of Oregon and Washington.
“I think red- and yellow-flesh are gaining a little ground, but it’s nothing drastic,” he said. “You’re not talking more than 5% (annual growth).”
For Amstad Produce Inc., Sherwood, Ore., russet is still king, and company president Tony Amstad doesn’t see anyone knocking it off its throne anytime soon.
“We’re 90% russet or better,” he said, adding that the company’s product mix is unchanged this year. Amstad Produce grows just 150 acres of red potatoes. The company doesn’t grow any gold or other colored varieties and has no immediate plans to do so, Amstad said.
Norkotah volumes grown and/or marketed by Harvest Fresh Produce Inc., Othello, will be significantly lower than last year, but it’s due more to the economy than to a surge in demand for yukon golds, reds or other varieties, said Allen Floyd, the company’s president.
“My russet acreage is down a lot because I didn’t like the looks of this coming year very much,” he said.
That said, red and gold acreage is increasing slightly, Floyd said — about 1% each every year.