Spring planting of red potatoes at Washington Lettuce & Vegetable/Hughes Farms Inc.
Spring planting of red potatoes at Washington Lettuce & Vegetable/Hughes Farms Inc.

A cool, dry growing season has fruit and vegetable growers and shippers in Washington’s Skagit Valley anticipating a brisk sales season.

“We’re coming in earlier than normal because of the warm weather and good pollination,” said Harley Soltes, owner of Bow, Wash.-based Bow Hill Blueberries.

Soltes said he anticipates production of 50,000-70,000 pounds of organic berries from the 5-6 acres dedicated to the fruit, compared to about 30,000 a year ago.

The deal started July 20 and likely will run until the end of September, Soltes said.

The season is off to a brisk start at Mount Vernon, Wash.-based Skagit Flats Farm, said Andy Ross, owner.

“It’s been a good year so far. The weather has been favorable and prices have been, I guess I’d say, fair and steady and stable,” he said, referring to his 6 acres of lettuce, 4 acres of summer squash and 3 acres of winter squash, to go with “a little bit of snap beans and cucumbers.”

Summer squash should wrap up in mid- to late September, with lettuce running into mid- to late October and leading to the October-December winter squash deal, Ross said.

“Price has been fair and the other farmers I talk to seem to be having good years between favorable weather and favorable market,” he said.

A cold spring with a bit of moisture slowed up planting, but consistent 80-degree days helped to speed up the process, said Diane Dempster, locally grown manager at Charlie’s Produce, a Seattle-based wholesale distributor.

“For the most part, things are going really well,” said Dempster, whose company sources cucumbers, broccoli, potatoes, berries and other items from the Skagit Valley.

Potato growers said they are looking at average yields and normal starts.

“We had a very dry summer, so everybody has been irrigating as fast as we can, but here in the Pacific Northwest we worry about getting water off the field, not usually putting the water on them,” said Dean Cunningham, vice president of Mount Vernon, Wash.-based Washington Lettuce & Vegetable/Hughes Farms Inc.

Overly dry weather hasn’t helped, but there have been worse summers, Cunningham said.

“It’s been a dry summer for sure, but three years ago, we had a really dry summer and some very high temperatures, too,” he said.

The key is for the dry weather to hold out long enough to get all the necessary digging done, Cunningham said.

“We’ve got a million things to do between now and the middle of November, but that depends, of course, on everybody getting everything dug and put away,” he said.

The potato deal started around Aug. 20, which growers said is normal.

“The last couple of years, we haven’t been able to get started until the week after Labor Day because we were late planting, but this year, we’ll have a normal start,” said Cunningham, whose company grows red, white, yellow, blue and a red-gold potatoes.

A normal start to the potato deal is a nice change of pace, said Cliff Corwin, marketing and sales manager of Mount Vernon-based Skagit Valley’s Best/Smith & Morrison Farms LLC.

“Historically, we’re about normal, but for the last three to four years, it would be early,” he said.

Prices should be better this year, too, said Dale Hayton, sales manager at Valley Pride Sales, a Mount Vernon-based potato grower-shipper.

“The market is certainly stronger than it was at this time last year as we went into the season,” Hayton said.