In early fall 2008, potato processors were ready to pay top dollar for the next year's spuds.
The 2009 crop was looking to be lucrative for growers. Then the bottom fell out of the economy and by January, processors were back at the negotiating table, asking growers to accept fewer dollars.
The relationship between grower and processor is symbiotic -- they need each other for survival -- so the growers agreed.
About 87 percent of potatoes harvested in Washington are processed for french fries and similar products.
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Although the average contract price increased 20 percent, that was just enough to cover growing operational costs, said Dale Lathim, executive director of the Potato Growers of Washington.
Fewer acres were planted as well. About 145,000 acres were planted for this year's harvest, compared with 155,000 for the 2008 harvest.
It's too early to tell how many acres have been harvested and how many tons of potatoes have been produced.
But Karen Bonaudi, assistant executive director of the Washington Potato Commission, said flatly, "Acreage is down."
Potato harvest is now wrapping up in Washington, where spuds are the state's second-largest crop behind apples. Idaho is the only state that produces more potatoes than Washington.
Washington's 2008 potato crop was valued at $693 million, which was 7 percent higher than 2007, when 10,000 more acres actually were planted.
The Washington Field Office of the National Agriculture Statistics Service does not have any estimates or projections yet for this year's state crop.
Lathim said contract negotiations are ongoing for the 2010 crop and final deals should be reached in January.
"We try to make sure the contracts cover the growers' costs ... and leave some room for profit," he said.
Lathim wouldn't elaborate on specific potato prices, but he said growers are looking at a "reasonable profit margin in 2010."
-- Drew Foster: 509-585-7207; email@example.com