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Wada Farms sees large sizes, good quality in new potato crop

When the 2019 Idaho Russet harvest got under way around mid-August, the potatoes coming out of the early fields showed very good quality, but the size profile was mixed and on average appeared to be significantly smaller than normal. That was the case for Wada Farms Marketing Group LLC and for most other producers in the state.

As the harvest has progressed, however, the size profile has continued to improve.

01-Wada---Kevin-StangerKevin StangerQuality continues to look good, and “although we were afraid sizing was going to be significantly off, it doesn’t seem to be as drastic as maybe some had thought,” Kevin Stanger, president of the Idaho Falls, ID-based company said Sept. 12. “Not that we are going to have huge spuds, but the size may be a little closer to normal than some had predicted.”

The harvest was still in the early weeks. “We’ve got another month to go as of this point in time,” Stanger said. “But we are really excited about that aspect of the new crop.”

A late spring frost around planting time caused some delays and is believed responsible for the smaller size profile of the Idaho crop this year. Since then, weather conditions during the growing season have been excellent, leading to the high-quality crop. As the first potatoes were dug in August, growers were hopeful that continued good weather would give the later potatoes time to bulk up, and that appears to have been the case.

However, Stanger pointed out that there would be little opportunity for the potatoes to put on any additional size during the month remaining before the end of the harvest. That is because the potato vines must be killed three weeks before the potatoes are dug in order to give the tubers time for the skins to set, and the potatoes need to be out of the ground and in storage before they are at risk for frost damage, he said. While that date will vary by a week or two depending on location, generally everything must be harvested by early October.

Apart from frost damage to potatoes in the ground, too much heat or too much cold during harvest and hauling can cause quality problems.

At Wada Farms, “we are really watching pulp temperatures,” Stanger said. “One of the things we have incorporated even more extensively in the last couple of years is to harvest at a time of day that the temperatures are most ideal. On a hot day we will dig early, I’m talking early, in the morning and quit by noon or even 11 a.m. But toward the end of the harvest, there will be days when we will not start until after lunch.”

Whenever the temperature gets below or above a specified range, “we will shut it off and start again the next day,” he said.

The trailers Wada uses to haul the potatoes from field to storage are all equipped with tarps, which will protect the potatoes from getting either too hot or too cold during transit.

Wada Farms was also in the midst of harvesting colored potatoes, and the quality on those was looking very good as well.

The company’s Colorado program was much the same, with quality looking very nice but sizing early on appearing to be off slightly.

Wada Farms’ onion harvest was “just getting going,” Stanger said. “So far, everyone is talking positively about the crop.”

Sweet potatoes are another major item for Wada Farms, with North Carolina being the company’s major growing area. Hurricane Dorian brought a little bit of rain to the growing area, but it didn’t seem to be enough to really damage anything in the sweet potato deal. Stanger expected to have some product cured and ready to ship by the third week of September.