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David Sparks Ph.d 2017 Spud Crop
by David Sparks Ph.d, click here for bio

Program: Idaho Ag Today
Date: August 31, 2017

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Rigby Produce outside of Rigby reached a milestone this past week. The 2016 season just ended and the last potatoes of the season were packaged and shipped last Friday.


“We’re just finishing out the 2016 crop and we’re done as of today” said Stephanie Mickelsen, CFO of Mickelsen Farms. “Starting this week we’ll start the 2017 crop through the warehouse and packing shed and start shipping potatoes throughout the United States.”


Mickelsen says Rigby Produce will transition right into the 2017 season without a break.


“There will be no down time this year. We seem to go have gone from one season to the next. In the past we've had a week or two, but there is no downtime from when we finish the crop and start with the new,” said Mickelsen.


Last year Idaho producers planted 325,000 acres of potatoes, with good size but only fair prices. Mickelsen says the 2017 crop is different.


Since 2000, the average national price for fresh potatoes has ranged from a low of $7.34 per hundredweight for the 2003 crop to a high of $14.44 for the 2008 crop, according to the US Department of Agriculture.


Following the cycle of one to two years of high prices, followed by a period of low prices, potatoes were primed for higher prices this marketing year, according to Ryan Larsen, an extension farm management specialist at Utah State University. He looked at three different forecasts earlier this year.


The USDA baseline forecast is for $6 per hundredweight. Another source gave a single moving average of $6.50 to $6.60 per hundredweight, while the third — indicating more risk — ranged from $7 to $8.


“If you’re looking for a bright spot,” he said, “potatoes have a good chance of breaking even,” said Larsen. “And if acres are down, we can add onto that.”


While that’s a far cry from the 2008 year, growers that can capitalize on market timing can capture high prices as some did in 2015 and 2016. Growers also had good weather that produced a uniform crop the past two years. Eighty-two percent of the crop graded No. 1, that's up from 73.7 percent in 2015.


“I think 2017 is going to be a bit more challenging than last year. The crop is two weeks behind schedule because of the type of spring we have had. The size is just not going to be there but it should mean a better market for growers this fall,” added Mickelsen.


The USDA reports that Idaho’s 2016-17 crop was marketing throughout the year, with top shipment months noted in September (12% of annual marketings), October (12%), April (11%), March (9%) and May (9%). The comparatively lower volume months were July (6%) and this past August (6%).


“I think we should see higher prices than in ’17 because of the challenges we’ve had with the growing season and we need that to make up for the past 3-4 years the prices we've had in the potato market the last few years,” said Mickelsen.


A five week heat wave stretching from July to mid August stressed potatoes. One farmer said he's doing everything he can to revive what he calls tired plants.


“I think that's a very fair assessment,” said Mickelsen. “We met with the chemical company yesterday and they said all the farmers around here are trying to put anything they can on the vines to try and revive them. They're tired this summer, especially lately because it’s extremely hot. We've had weeks and weeks of heat and dry temperatures.”


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