Moderate growing season temperatures in potato regions from the northwest to the southeast means a strong yield of high quality potatoes this year and depressed prices.
Growers across the country are trying not to let the low prices get them down, offering creative pricing and marketing strategies to get Americans eating more potatoes. Meanwhile, transportation shortages are an ongoing challenge to shippers this year.
“Demand in Idaho and for potatoes overall has been challenging for the last 20 years,” said Frank Muir, president of the Idaho Potato Commission, Eagle. The grower representative said Idaho’s growers harvested 13 billion pounds of potatoes from 321,000 acres this year, about 50% of which will go into fresh.
Ralph Schwartz, vice president of marketing, sales and innovation for Potandon Produce, Idaho Falls, Idaho, agreed there is an abundance of russetts, Idaho’s principle crop, leading to a downward push on prices for other varieties, including reds, yellows and whites.
Nick Hulsey, onion and potato category manager for L&M Cos., Raleigh, N.C., agrees that russetts are pulling the entire category down, making it harder to sell other varieties. Nonetheless, prices are high for the short supply of 40-80 size cartons.
Growers in North Dakota are seeing low prices across all crops and difficulty securing transportation, said Paul Dolan, general manager of Associated Potato Growers, Grand Forks, N.D.
“We’ve lowered our prices, but we could only go so low,” he said.
Nonetheless, he added, “If we had movement, I don’t know where we’d find the trucks.”
Dolan said better quality this year is the result of adequate moisture and proper digging conditions, although the overall yield is down about 15% across the 6,000 acres his 16 grower members cultivate. The representative said B size red potatoes will be in tight demand as a drier season led to crop losses.
Dolan said his growers have been more creative with pricing, running advertisements in October and November to move their reds in hopes of compensating for low prices on other crops.
Reflecting on the interconnectivity of potato growers across regions, Schwartz said, “Nobody in Idaho is happy when prices fall.”
However, Schwartz acknowledged he is still seeing good sales on all varieties, including reds, yellows, whites, russetts and several proprietary varieties.
The availability of fresh potatoes from Florida will expand come February, said L&M’s Hulsey. The company will source reds, yellows and whites for 22 weeks in Florida starting in February in its second season in the state.
The company sources from Fort Myers beginning in February, and northern Florida from May through July 1.
“People will pick them over a storage crop potato every day. They are a hot commodity,” he said of the fresh potatoes in the relatively new growing region. Hulsey said he believes offering a colorful fresh potato sets L&M apart from the competition.