LAKE WALES, Fla. — This year’s spring potato harvesting started earlier and stronger than usual.
Buyers should expect more early volume.
Early January freezes didn’t harm potatoes, and the tubers survived cold weather in mid-February, said Ken Wiles, general manager of Mack Farms Inc.
Light volumes in early deal
“Our size is a little better than what we’ve had the past three years,” Wiles said in late February.
“We will have a little more volume — 10% to 15% more early volume — because it’s been so light in recent years. We stayed mostly sold-out because some of the guys didn’t plant for the early deal.”
Because of the risks of cold weather, Wiles said some other south Florida growers skipped early-season plantings, making for less volume at the start. He called early demand exceptionally strong and characterized pricing as matching the heavier early interest.
Mack Farms began its harvesting Feb. 7, the earliest it began harvest since 2009.
While Mack Farms had light volume in late February, Wiles said he expects volume to increase for the reds, whites, yellows and fingerlings after March 5.
March and April remain the heaviest months, with south Florida volume typically peaking in late April and early May.
For north Florida production, a mid-February freeze stopped what could have been one of the deal’s earliest starts, said Adam Lytch, operations manager for Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. Inc.
Lytch in late February said potatoes planted to be harvested in early May were at least two weeks earlier than typical.
The cold temperatures damaged plants that were in advanced stages, but the younger ones just emerging received minor freeze burning, he said.
“The potatoes will be fine,” Lytch said.
“We should make a relatively normal crop of potatoes. They will just be closer to normal than being so early like they were on schedule to be.”
Lytch said the Feb. 12 freezing temperatures harmed yields and sizings and may prevent some from properly setting.
Fortunately, a large percentage of the crop still under the dirt had not emerged as of late February as north Florida planting progressed, Lytch said.
North Florida production typically begins in early May and finishes by June 20.
South Florida growers produce on 9,000 acres, Wiles said.
Though Florida remains the first new potato producer with its late winter window, Arizona usually follows shortly after and Texas enters in late April. After north Florida ends in June, North Carolina and California enter the market with new potatoes.