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Picture-perfect potatoes primed for pipeline

Preliminary reports from the Pacific Northwest are strong indicators that fresh potato growers are anticipating an outstanding production season in 2016.

Bill Brewer, executive director of the Oregon Potato Commission, put it this way: “Good growing weather normally means a larger size profile,” he told The Produce News. “The weather has been very cooperative the entire season, so quality will be great. Flavor is Oregon’s soil and climate secret.  We have the best soil, climate and growers in the nation that provide ‘Nutritious Potatoes from Healthy Oregon Soils’.”

Chris Voigt, executive director of the Washington State Potato Commission, is equally enthusiastic. “The weather has been perfect for growing potatoes this year which is a welcome change from the past couple of years,” he commented. “In the past, we’ve had extended periods of extreme temperatures. But this year has been ideal. Warm summer days and cool nights are the perfect conditions for potatoes.”

CropOV-ProgressiveProduceFresh potato growers in the Pacific Northwest are already harvesting and moving product into the global pipeline. Photo courtesy of Progressive Produce Corporation.Brewer said it’s been a great year for potato production for the most part. “All areas of Oregon are several days ahead of normal, whatever that means,” he stated. “Only the Baker County area growers are going to be short of water for a full season this year. Baker County’s winter snows didn’t provide enough moisture to fill the reservoirs. The other regions will enjoy the first full season of water they have had for the last few years.”

Looking at fresh volume, Brewer expected it will be up slightly when compared to prior years due to this season’s favorable conditions.

“We have been around 13 percent of the total going toward fresh table stock,” he said. The harvest is currently underway and will run through October. While the commission does not track the percent of organic potatoes grown in Oregon, Brewer places the volume between 2-4 percent.

According to Brewer, approximately 70 percent of fresh crop is marketed domestically. Exports are moved to Mexico, the Pacific Rim and Canada.

On the marketing side, OPM hopes to conduct some in-store promotions at New Season and Market of Choice during the fall.

“We continue to conduct potato taste research using the Pro Chefs Oregon volunteers as our judges,” he added. “We have successfully partnered with this group of experts in Portland for five years to understand which soil types and climate provide the best flavor characteristics for different varieties.”

Turning to Washington, Voigt talked about favorable feedback from the state’s fresh potato growers. “With this perfect weather we’ve experienced, I think we are going to have a perfect crop,” he said. “So far, the quality has been outstanding with a good mix in the size profile, plentiful carton sized potatoes along with consumer bags. And the flavor of this year’s crop is amazing. It’s a rich, creamy flavor that is going to accent any meal.”

This season, a record might have been broken for the earliest harvest date. “Folks were digging chipping potatoes in mid-June, and our fresh and frozen processed potatoes are a week to 10 days ahead of schedule,” he said. “We have a great supply of high-quality early fresh russets, reds and yellows. Harvest will end a little earlier this year with most of the crop safely stored away by the second week in October.”

Approximately one percent of Washington’s fresh volume is organic.

This season, Washington saw good precipitation, strengthening river flows in the Pacific Northwest.

“We don’t anticipate any water issues affecting this year’s production of potatoes,” he said.

Approximately 23 percent of Washington’s crop of fresh potatoes is exported.

WSPC recently created training materials and documentation templates for all of its fresh growers to utilize for a new food-safety audit some are being asked to complete. “We were the first state potato association to provide this service to our growers, almost 10 years ago, and we continue to build a library of food safety resources for them,” Voigt stated.