Washington’s potato harvest came in a bit short of grower expectations, but this year’s crop should still be larger than last year.
State farmers recently finished digging up an estimated 99.8 million hundredweight of potatoes, up 4 percent from last year, according to data recently released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Harvest wrapped up last week, just before the Mid-Columbia hit freezing temperatures.
“The weather was so good that no one was in any hurry,” said Dale Lathim, executive director for the Potato Growers of Washington and the United Fresh Potato Growers of Washington & Oregon.
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The high summer heat affected everyone’s crop this year, Lathim said. Most saw heat cut into quality and yield, but a few ended up with their best ever quality and yield.
Still, average yield is estimated at 605 hundredweight per acre, up by about 5 hundredweight per acre from last year, according to USDA.
Consumers will still see high quality potatoes available in stores and supermarkets. Any potatoes that do not meet quality standards are culled, Lathim said.
The processed market has done remarkably well this year, with an uptick in demand seen right after planting in spring, Lathim said. About 80 percent of Washington’s crop is headed to frozen processors.
The demand for exported frozen potato products, particularly in the Pacific Rim, has been higher than last year, with a phenomenal second quarter, he said.
Having ConAgra Foods Lamb Weston open the expansion of its Boardman potato processing plant was fortuitous this year, he said. The $200 million processing line, which will allow the company to make 300 million more pounds of french fries each year, was definitely needed.
Lathim said they will be relying on the new processing line running hard next year.
The processing potato market tends to be stable because growers have contracts with processors that set pricing.
The market for fresh potatoes has been improving. Prices were poor at the start of harvest but the prices for larger potatoes recently have been rebounding more quickly than normal for this time of year, Lathim said. That’s good because Washington’s fresh potato growers have more larger potatoes than smaller potatoes to sell.
Only about 10 percent of Washington potatoes are destined for the fresh market. The other 10 percent are chipping potatoes.
Washington growers planted about 5,000 acres more this year, reaching about 165,000 acres statewide. Benton and Franklin counties grow about 64,600 acres of potatoes, according to the USDA. The state’s 2012 crop was valued at $700 million.
Lathim expects Oregon growers saw larger yield gains than currently estimated. Their average yield was about 585 hundredweight per acre, up 40 hundredweight from last year, according to USDA estimates.
Oregon’s crop is expected to be 22.8 million hundredweight, 6 percent higher than last year, according to USDA.