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Red potatoes enjoying hot summer

As the summer solstice hit on June 21, California’s weather heated up with record temperatures noted in many different communities. At the same time, the market for red potatoes also heated up and a strong market is expected throughout July.

Gary Askenaizer, who handles bulk potato sales for Progressive Produce Corp. in Los Angeles, told The Produce News on June 29 that supplies of red potatoes were short as the Kern County, CA, deal winds down before deals in Stockton, CA, and eastern Washington get under way. He said the colored potato market appeared to be fairly strong. He also noted that the russet potato market might see some strengthening as well, as the fresh crop from the Northwest looks like it is at least a couple of weeks behind typical timing. “The new crop out of Washington doesn’t look like it is going to get going until the end of July. That’s later than usual.”

Speaking from Edison, CA, Mike Haddad of Kirschenman Enterprises Inc. concurred that there has been significant strengthening in the red potato f.o.b. prices since the middle of June. He said the carton price has been held back by a lower-than-usual market on the 100-pound sacks but that turned around recently. “The sacks were only at $14 to $16 per hundredweight,” he said, “but now we are at $28 and it's firm.”

On that same June 29 date, he said most Kern County growers will continue digging for the next two weeks with sales continuing a bit longer than that. By then, Stockton fields a couple of hundred miles farther north will be ready for harvest. But Haddad said the market for reds should remain firm as that northern San Joaquin Valley deal is relatively small with only a couple of shippers. Eastern Washington typically has new potatoes as soon as the first week of July, but not this year. It will be much closer to the end of the month before volume shipments from that district materialize.

There have been predictions that the potato acreage across the country is down considerably this summer and fall. Time will tell but it does appear that a stronger marketing situation is on the horizon.

Haddad noted that California’s Kern County potato deal, which was built on the russet potato in years gone by, had zero russet acreage this year. “The russets were a loser for us. You just couldn’t make any money,” he said, adding that with less acreage and a more thoughtful diversity of varieties, the future is looking better than it once did for the region.

While other areas clearly did better, the nationwide russet market has been depressed more often than not in the past decade, and it is just possible the tide is starting to shift. At least that is the collective feeling voiced by several veterans of the potato deal.