A sluggish start to the growing season wasn’t concerning growers much in June, as Mother Nature was doing her best to get the Washington potato crop back on track, according to grower-shippers and industry officials.

Potentially causing more concern, though, could be market conditions, as storage supplies from the 2008-09 season could linger just as the Evergreen State gets set to kick off 2009-10.

Rival new-season crops from other growing regions could pose additional challenges later in the season.

Winter didn’t want to let go in Washington potato-growing country this year, but once it did, things picked up in a hurry, said Allen Floyd, president of Harvest Fresh Produce Inc., Othello, Wash.

“It looks really good now,” he said. “We had a really late spring with the weather but we’re catching up real fast.”

Days in the upper 70s and cool nights in late May and early June have supercharged spud growth, Floyd said.

Nevertheless, some effects of the cool spring could still be felt come harvest, Floyd said.

“There may be a little lighter tonnage” in early yields, he said.

Early in the growing season it wasn’t uncommon for daily highs to be 10 degrees lower than normal, said Larry Sieg, general manager of the Pasco, Wash., office of Idaho Falls, Idaho-based Potandon Produce LLC.

That set the deal back, Sieg said. But warm weather beginning around June 1 was accelerating growth and returning things closer to normal.

Harvest Fresh expects to begin harvest about July 25, at least two weeks earlier than last year’s start but similar to an average year, Floyd said.

Potandon should begin harvesting in Washington in the last week of July, its usual start, Sieg said.

Because of the cold start to the growing season, some spuds could likely do with a little more time in the ground, Sieg said, but because the company’s customers expect them in late July, they’re coming out.

“We’ll probably just sacrifice yields to get going at that point in time,” he said.

The chilly spring weather should not, however, affect the quality of spuds coming out of the Evergreen State, Sieg said.

“It’s hard to screw up here,” he said. “We don’t have the big rains that come through (other growing areas).”
While the remaining 2008-09 crop shouldn’t be a problem when Washington gets rolling in July, rival new deals coming on the heels of the Evergreen State  could pose some stiff competition, Floyd said.

“Colorado may have a few (storage potatoes) left, but Wisconsin’s going to be in pretty good shape and Idaho will have just enough to supply contracts,” he said. “All in all, the old crop will not be a problem. The new crop could be burdensome in August.”

While Floyd and other growers wouldn’t know for sure until official acreage estimates came out, Floyd’s hunch in early June was that acreage would be up slightly nationwide.

Sieg had heard reports that nationwide acreage could be down 5% in 2009-10. Nevertheless, some states could do a better job of reining in acres than others, he said.

“I’m worried about Idaho and Colorado,” he said. “I’m not as concerned about Wisconsin.”

Washington acreage, however, should be similar to last year, he said.