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Despite some wildfire smoke and rain and frost at the beginning and end of the growing season, this year’s potato crop quality is good overall, growers and packer-shippers say.
Good midseason growing conditions, uninterrupted by rains that can slow progress, left potatoes in good shape to weather subsequent challenges. Smoke and frost caused some damage, depending on location and variety.
“They are just starting out of storage, but so far things look pretty good,” said Kevin Stanger, president of Wada Farms in Pingree, in southeast Idaho. Size looks good overall; some lots are bigger or smaller, “but overall it looks like a nice, broad size profile.”
Handlers want to see potatoes with a good color, no major defects, and no signs of disease or rot. He said a “good, even-keel summer” helped potato quality.
This year was an improvement over the rainier 2017, except for some reports of freezing to the north when potatoes were still in the ground, Stanger said.
Todd Cornelison, who owns packer-shipper High Country Potato in Rexburg and is a new member of the Idaho Potato Commission, said field frost in the first half of October likely impacted a small portion of Russet Burbank potatoes still in the ground in the area at the time, probably less than 15 percent.
The risk is that the frost penetrates the end of the potato closest to the ground’s surface, causes the interior to break down, and later “weeps” moisture onto neighboring potatoes in storage, he said.
Burbanks unaffected by frost look good, Cornelison said. High Country Potato was yet to handle any as of Oct. 29, “but everybody I’ve talked to says the quality is very good, and also that the size profile is a little small. That might be due to some of the smoke.”
Burbanks, he said, “just tend to be more affected by adverse weather conditions. Burbanks are very temperamental.” The variety is associated with a higher percentage of interior solids than Russet Norkotah potatoes.
Norkotahs, harvested before Burbanks, appear to be unaffected by summer smoke, Cornelison said.
“We start out each year with Norkotah, and they have shown the highest quality we have seen in 10 years, in both size profile and quality,” he said. Yields have been in line with long-term averages.
Last year, Idaho potato quality looked fairly well early on, “but harvest conditions were challenging enough that we might have beaten them up a little getting them out,” Cornelison said. “We didn’t have that this year.
“Overall, I am excited to run this crop,” he said. “We’ve got a good-quality crop.”
Each year brings potato-quality challenges in one growing area or another, said Idaho Potato Commission Chairman Randy Hardy, a grower in the Oakley area of south-central Idaho, and chairman of the Sun Valley Potato Growers fresh-pack cooperative.
“Overall, we have a pretty good-quality crop,” he said. “My own went just about as well as any I’ve had.”
Yields per acre in south central Idaho, Hardy’s region, probably were a little better than those seen to the east and north, he said.
“We did not have the weather issues in the spring that they had,” he said. “They went in easier,” he said of potato plantings, “and without the rain, they were able to get off to a faster start.”
Hardy’s farm, and some of his neighbors’, tended to see higher yields and larger sizes in Norkotah.
Smoke may have slightly reduced Burbank size and yield, he said. “We didn’t see them grow in August like we typically would, and like we were seeing in Norkotahs.”
Hardy does not grow Ranger potatoes, a processing variety, but heard reports from neighboring farmers that Ranger yields were strong and producing a potato of high quality.
General Onion and Potato Distributors of Idaho, in Shelley, southwest of Idaho Falls, takes most of its potatoes from within 50 miles.
“What we’ve seen out of the field is above-average yields with probably slightly better-than-average quality,” General Manager Kevin Searle said.
Challenges the fresh-pack operator faces likely will include some shoulder bruising — producing a dark area inside the potato — “based on conditions at the end of harvest,” he said, “and maybe something to do with (wet) spring planting conditions when we were trying to get potatoes into the ground.”
Searle expects to deal with some Hollow Heart, which has shown up in some lots, he said. Caused by erratic moisture and various environmental factors during development, it’s characterized by an open cavity — sometimes ringed with brown — in the potato’s interior.
On the other hand, GOPD is not seeing many growth cracks in potatoes, or extra growths that can resemble limbs.
“Shape is better than a year ago,” Searle said. “Overall, I think we have a positive outlook for the quality of the crop in our area.”