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Offshore opportunities being developed for Oregon, Washington potato producers

Officials from Oregon and Washington are working on an upcoming joint trade mission to expand export opportunities for Northwest potatoes. “We are conducting a trade mission to the Philippines and Vietnam with the directors of Agriculture from both Oregon and Washington State planned for November,” said Bill Brewer, executive director of the Oregon Potato Commission. “OPC will be conducting this mission jointly with the Washington State Potato Commission.”

OpenerShotPotato producers in Washington and Oregon are expecting good crops in 2013. (Photo courtesy of the Washington State Potato Commission)Chris Voigt, executive director of the Washington State Potato Commission, said export markets present the state’s fresh producers with important market destinations. “Most of our fresh potatoes are kept here in the U.S.,” he stated. “About 20 percent of our fresh potatoes are export. About half of that are fresh potatoes shipped to Asia for processing into potato chips.”

Canada is Washington’s largest export market for fresh potatoes. “Washington has a built-in advantage of having nearby access to critical seaports located within our own backyard. This close proximity allows access to critical markets throughout Asia and Central America,” he added.

According to Brewer, roughly 13 percent of Oregon’s fresh product is exported. “It is hard to track because statistics don’t separate fresh chip exports from fresh table stock exports,” he stated. “Oregon easily exports over 50 percent of the entire potato production to international markets.” Key destinations include Taiwan and Mexico. Although there is no market access for table stock at the current time, Korea does receive potatoes for chipping. “Vietnam has potential, and we have high expectations with the Philippines approving market access for table stock now,” he commented.

Both men said producers in their respective states are anticipating good crops in 2013. “It’s been a really good growing season, with perfect growing conditions the first half of the season,” Voigt said. “Higher temperatures in early July will take the top off yields. But we are expecting a great crop. Fresh potato harvest started [the week of July 14] and will continue through mid-late October.”

Voigt expects Washington potato supplies to be similar to last season. “Volumes will be higher than normal in the early season since the supply pipeline is pretty dry,” he stated.

The current crop is expected to be one of very high quality. “Growing conditions were near perfect, which should translate into a great quality crop,” Voigt said. “Early season size may be on the smaller side only because growers will have to harvest a little earlier than normal and sacrifice some yield to keep fresh potatoes in the supply pipeline. The later season fresh potatoes should have a normal size profile.”

According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington planted 160,000 acres of potatoes for all uses this season. Washington has 40 growers producing supplies for the fresh market. “Harvest has already begun for growers in certain parts of the state and for select varieties,” he continued. “Harvesting efforts will continue into October depending on exactly which region the fields are located.”

Brewer said Oregon’s growers are also having a good season. “It’s been a very good growing year to date for all areas of the state,” he noted. With a total of 40,000 acres devoted to potato production, Brewer said 40 growers, many of them small fresh growers in the Klamath Falls area, account for 15 percent of land in potato production. “Oregon has ‘Healthy Distinct Potatoes’ grown in healthy distinct soil by exceptional potato growers,” he added.

Looking at weather, Brewer said, “Oregon had a short winter snowpack.  It hasn’t been an issue yet for fresh growers. We need to wait to see how the late summer goes.”

Overall, Brewer is expecting a slight reduction in volume this season when compared to 2012. “The fresh harvest will begin in [early August]. Harvest will be completed mid-October.  There are generally a few acres in the field until the end of October depending on weather and market demand. But generally everyone has finished by Oct. 25.”

Labor and water availability have not been factors affecting production in either state.