Varietal profiles for most Wisconsin potato grower-shippers will look much like last year, with continued decreases in white potato acreage one exception.

Bancroft, Wis.-based Russet Potato Exchange expects to market a similar mix of russets, reds, whites, yellows, purples, fingerlings and other potatoes this season, said Russell Wysocki, owner.

But within each category, the company is experimenting with new varieties, Wysocki said.

“We’re trying a few new varieties,” he said. “We always experiment with three or four new ones, and hope we can get one or two to stick. It’s a long-term investment.”

Finding a varietal that can differentiate itself from those of its competitors is key, Wysocki said.

In the works right now at Russet Potato Exchange are varieties that are differentiated based on flavor — which, Wysocki said, given the commodity in question, isn’t always an easy feat to pull off.

“Potatoes traditionally have a small range of flavor,” he said. “Traditionally you have to add the flavor to the potato. But we’ve found one that’s nutty, another that has a smoother flavor.”

Most of the top secret varietals now being considered by Russet Potato Exchange are colored varieties, though there is one new russet undergoing a tryout at the company, Wysocki said.

An industry trend that is by no means new but that’s continuing to gain steam is the replacement of an old industry standard with newer varieties.

“White acreage is continuing to decrease somewhat, but I believe specialties are starting to pick up,” Wysocki said. “And it’s not just yellow-flesh anymore.”

Blue-flesh potatoes, fingerlings and other newer specialties continue to gain favor with consumers, he said.
White acreage likely will continue to decrease in at least the near future, Wysocki said.

“Sooner or later it will have to level off, but right it’s still on a slow decline,” he said. “It’s too bad. It’s a good variety.”

Russets are expected to make up about 65% of the potatoes grown or marketed this year by Friesland, Wis.-based Alsum Produce Inc., reds 25% and yellows and other varieties 10%, said Larry Alsum, president and general manager.

“I’d say we’re pretty steady,” he said. “We picked up a little volume on organic russets, and we’re up slightly on our other categories.”

The 2009 season likely will see more of the same for Katz Produce Sales LLC, Plover, Wis., said Tim Verpoorten, salesman.
In fact, even more of more of the same.

“The russet deal is stronger than it was,” Verpoorten said.

One main reason for that, he said, was the continued decline of another longtime industry heavyweight.

“We’re seeing less and less whites every year,” he said.

Red volumes would likely be similar for Katz this year, and yellows — in particular early varieties that go straight to market instead of first into storage — would likely be up, he said.

Katz does not market any purples or fingerlings, and Verpoorten said he was not aware of any production boosts on those two varieties in the state.

Not all Wisconsin grower-shippers of fresh potatoes are bullish on diversifying their varietal offerings.
Burns & Sons Farms Inc, Almond, Wis., has no interest in shipping reds or yellows, to say nothing of more exotic fare, said James Burns Jr., president.

The company is happy to stick with russets.

“We haven’t gone in for a lot of these gimmicks — fingerlings, organic, that sort of thing,” he said.

Also keeping a russet-centered approach to things is Spud City Sales LLC, Stevens Point, Wis., said Tom Lundgren, owner and president.

“There are plenty of reds and whites for mixers grown in the state, but the people I’m involved with, the majority is russets.”

Rosholt, Wis.-based Bushmans’ Inc. expects to ship a similar mix of russets, reds, whites and other varieties, said Mike Carter, chief executive officer.

Carter has a slightly different take than some other shippers on the status of the white.

“They’re pretty stable,” he said. “For consumers in the Midwest, they’re not as big of a deal, but you go out East, and people still like round whites.”