Potato marketing agents say they’re busy on a number of fronts this season, thanks to a high-quality crop.

“We thought that the cool weather would present us with some problems, but in actuality we’re going to have a good quality crop this year. It made the potatoes quite large,” said Dick Okray, co-owner of Plover, Wis.-based Okray Family Farms Inc.

Okray said part of his marketing strategy will be to move large spuds.

“Because of the size profile of this year’s crop, we’re encouraging retailers to try to take every third week or so and run ads on packaged large-size potatoes,” he said.

The Antigo-based Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association Inc. will be going online to push its marketing campaign, said Tim Feit, promotions director.

“This year we’re doing a lot of Internet-related things, just because that’s more cost-effective for us. We just don’t have the budget other states have,” Feit said.

On the agenda will be seasonal recipe contests, which will be available on the association’s Web site, www.wisconsinpotatoes.com.

“It’s just been a couple of weeks, and we have 40 or 50 so far,” Feit said in early October.

“We’ve had a good response. We have an ad agency that specializes in Internet and P.R. They’ve sent out some press releases that have been really effective.”

Potato marketers predict a busy year

Courtesy Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association Inc.

Tim Feit, promotions director for the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association Inc., shows off the freshly painted Wisconsin Potatoes logo that will go on the Harley-Davidson “Spudster,” the grand prize in a contest for produce buyers.

The association also is running a contest for produce buyers, with a Harley-Davidson motorcycle as the big prize.

“All our shippers have a list of their best customers, and they give it to the WPVGA,” Feit said. “We mail a code that allows them to come to our Web site and gives them a chance to win a Harley. We give the Harley a custom paint job.”

There are other monthly gifts available, ranging from decks of cards for magic tricks to gift cards for gasoline to microwaveable bags.

“We’re letting them know we’re trying to get Wisconsin potatoes top of mind with these buyers. Keep them in their conversation,” Feit said.

The Harley is planned to be awarded in June.

Idaho marketing

Idaho growers dodged some hailstorms, and the crop came out looking good, said Kevin Stanger, vice president of sales and marketing for Idaho Falls, Idaho-based Wada Farms Marketing Group.

“Quality looks good overall,” Stanger said. “There will be ample supplies to run some good ads and promotions.”

The U.S. Potato Board is implementing a multipronged marketing program, said Tim O’Connor, the Denver-based board’s president and chief executive officer.

“We work retail programs and work consumer communications simultaneously. We’re trying to change what happens in retail in ways that move potatoes forward. We have a strong dialogue with consumers,” he said.

The board also has taken six frequent uses of potatoes and turned them into “quick and easy recipes so they can fit them into their lifestyle,” O’Connor said.

Canadian potatoes

In Canada, New Brunswick anticipates a normal crop, said Centerville-based grower Joe Brennan, chairman of Potatoes New Brunswick.

“We’re seeing a near-normal profile on gold rush and norkotahs,” he said, adding that the main variety, russet burbanks, likely will have a smaller-than-normal size profile.

“They didn’t get enough water to finish off normally,” Brennan said. “Numbers were good but size profile is going to be an issue.

About one-quarter of New Brunswick spuds go to the fresh market, mostly in the U.S., Brennan said.

“We’ll have a few more potatoes to sell, but we’ll have less No. 1s this year,” he said.

Red River Valley potatoes

Reds from the Red River Valley likely won’t be as plentiful this year as last year, said Ted Kreis, marketing director for the East Grand Forks, Minn.-based Northern Plains Potato Growers Association.

“The Red River Valley’s crop size is probably going to be down 10% or 15%,” he said. “The red crop in the country will be the same. There will be more out of Wisconsin.”

The region lost about 4,000 acres on June 26, when some heavy rain hit, Kreis said.

“Low-lying land stood underwater for about three days,” he said. “But we’ve raised about 22,000 acres of fresh. The rest of the crop is in very good shape.”

Lee Frankel, president and chief executive officer of United Potato Growers of America, Salt Lake City, said his organization has worked hard to keep growers abreast of all market conditions.

“Growers seemed to get the acreage message pretty well,” he said, referring to one of United’s goals of balancing supplies with demand and propping up prices. “There’s a total just within 1% of the same acreage as last year. Growers heeded the call and planted the right amount.”

Frankel in early October predicted a “break-even kind of year.”