Low prices for russet potatoes are taking a toll on red potato grower-shippers.


“We are being pressured by the disastrous russet prices,” said Steve Tweten, president of NoKota Packers Inc., Buxton, N.D. “We are working hard to be as competitive as we can and still return our growers a profit for all their hard work.”


The USDA reported Nov. 30 that 50-pound cartons of round red U.S. 1 size As from Minnesota and North Dakota were $7.50-8, while Bs were $15. By comparison, 50-pound cartons of russet burbanks from Idaho were $5.50-6 for 40-100s.


“Idaho is selling potatoes at less than what it costs to put them in the ground,” said Ted Kreis, marketing director for the Northern Plains Potato Growers, East Grand Forks, Minn.


While bumper crops were being harvested under ideal conditions in the Northwest and elsewhere, Red River Valley growers battled poor weather and a late start to harvest.


“This has been a wet fall,” Tweten said. “The harvest dragged out for an extra month. There will be some abandoned acres of red potatoes.”


Minnesota and North Dakota growers are hoping that a breast cancer awareness promotion will help consumers overlook the fact that red potatoes are priced higher than whites and yellows.


“There’s such a big price disparity, the pink ribbon hasn’t been able to make up the difference,” Kreis said.


“It’s probably helped. It probably would be worse if we didn’t have the promotion.”


Red potatoes are being bagged with pink ribbon Kwik Loks, and a portion of every sale goes to the Frisco, Texas-based National Breast Cancer Foundation. Point-of-sale materials are available to retailers for the season-long promotion, which started in October.


“We’ve had one large retailer who didn’t want it,” Kreis said.


“Other than that up take has been good. It’s an attention getter, and it goes to a good cause. We hope people will decide to buy a bag with a pink ribbon, as opposed to a bag that doesn’t have it.”


Kreis said the growers association hopes to raise $250,000 for the foundation.


“That’s our goal,” he said. “A lot of shippers are putting the tags on every bag they ship out, regardless of whether the retailer asked for it.”


The tags include a Web address that directs shoppers to red potato recipes.


“We have some of our retailers on board for the pink ribbon promotion and are trying to convince more to participate,” Tweten said.


“It is something that is really important, and we are glad for those who are involved.”