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US potato market specialist: '2019 could be a year to remember'

2019 could end up being a year that Idaho potato growers talk about for a long time.

“This is going to be a year to remember,” Bruce Huffaker, president of North American Potato Market News, said Dec. 10 during University of Idaho’s “Idaho Ag Outlook Seminar.”

Potato production in Idaho and around the U.S. is down this year and that is translating into significantly higher prices for spud growers. “There is going to be stiff competition between processors and the fresh market for who’s going to pay the most for potatoes,” Huffaker said.

Potato growers who sell to processors have pre-existing contracts and are locked in to previously agreed upon prices, but farmers who grow potatoes for the fresh market are reaping much higher prices on the open market.

Based on current projections, Idaho potato growers should be making about $12.23 per hundred pounds of potatoes sold right now, Huffaker said. This time last year, they were making closer to $6.

“We’re talking about almost doubling prices for Idaho potatoes this year,” he said. “Not so much process growers but for (fresh) potato growers, it should be a very good year.”

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, U.S. spud farmers produced a total of 422 million cwt of potatoes in 2019, down 2.2 percent from 2018. In states with potato processing capacity, production was down 3.6 percent, to 362 million cwt.

Huffaker said there were a slew of weather-related problems this growing season in several potato growing states across the nation and in Canada. That included the slowest start to planting on record in the Columbia Basin and extremely wet conditions in the upper Midwest.

Up to 18,000 acres of potatoes were unharvested in North Dakota and 17,000 acres were unharvested in Manitoba, Canada.

Extensive report by Idaho Ag Today here