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Idaho Potato Growers Expect Bountiful Harvest

posted on October 10, 2008


BOISE, Idaho (AP) -- Aided by favorable summer growing conditions, Idaho potato farmers expect to harvest more than 11 billion pounds of spuds by the end of the month, according to Idaho Potato Commission estimates.

That overall total is down from the 13 billion pounds harvested a year ago because some producers switched to crops like wheat, corn and hay which are fetching better market prices than potatoes this year.

But for some individual growers, the 2008 season is shaping up to be one of the best in decades.

Farmer Jim Tiede, who grows Russet Burbank potatoes on 900 acres in southeast Idaho, credits cooler summer temperatures, with few days topping the 100-degree mark, for filling his fields with plump, healthy spuds.

"It is truly the best Burbank crop I've ever raised in 30 years of farming," Tiede, a commissioner on the Idaho Potato Commission, told the Idaho State Journal.

Tiede expects to wrap up his harvest this week, but other potato growers will be busy digging up tubers until the end of the month, according to the commission.

This year, the commission anticipates that about 60 percent of spuds planted in Idaho will be processed into frozen or dehydrated products. About 30 percent of the crop will be shipped to grocery stores or restaurants nationwide, while less than 10 percent will be used to grow more potatoes next season.

Across the state, farmers planted potatoes on about 300,000 acres, down from 350,000 acres a year ago.

"It's not like the farmers are moving away from potatoes permanently," Frank Muir, president of the commission, told The Associated Press. "We anticipated it would drop to this level because of what was taking place in the market."

Idaho typically produces about one-third of the nation's fall potato crop, and about 60 percent of the state yield is produced in the eastern part of the state.

Muir said the state's annual harvest has fluctuated between 11 billion and 13 billion pounds, with the highest recent yield of 14 billion pounds in 2001.

"Every year we have ups and downs with the harvest and manage it accordingly," Muir said. "We are not anticipating any major shortages with our customers this year."

To help market Idaho potatoes, the commission is getting ready to launch a nationwide ad campaign on cable television next month. The ads are expected to run on cable stations through February.

Although the growing season started later than usual, agriculture officials in eastern Idaho say the summer's dry weather and cooler temperatures helped keep in check pests that in previous years damaged crops and lowered yields.

"It was still snowing in Blackfoot on June 10, so the crop got off to a slow start, but we had a good growing season this summer," said William Bohl, a Bingham County extension coordinator. "We had really a perfect growing season. It didn't get extremely hot, and then it cooled off at night, which potatoes like."


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