POCATELLO — New figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture show the value of Idaho’s potato crop reached a record $855 million last year.
That’s an increase of nearly $22 million from 2008, according to the report the USDA released Thursday.
Idaho Potato Commission President Frank Muir told the Idaho State Journal that the record value shows that 2009 had a positive ending for growers, despite challenges caused by price slumps and high yields.
Idaho growers harvested 319,000 acres of potatoes last year and saw record yields of 411 hundredweight (the equivalent of 41,100 pounds) per acre. Many growers panicked when they saw those numbers and started shipping spuds too quickly, resulting in prices that were lower than the cost of production for most farmers.
At the time, the Idaho Potato Commission urged growers to be patient and refrain from shipping their crops too fast. The advice paid off when prices rebounded over the past few months.
“I think we did a good job of moving the crop,” American Falls grower Jim Tiede said.
Still, Tiede said, many growers — especially those who produce potatoes for the fresh market — lost money on the 2009 crop because of the overproduction problems.
Nationwide, the 2009 potato crop value is estimated at more than $3.5 billion, a 7 percent drop from 2008. Idaho’s average price per hundredweight of potatoes was $6.45, compared with the national average of $8.19 per hundredweight. Fresh prices in Idaho averaged just $4.25 per hundredweight, however, compared with $7.70 per hundredweight for potatoes grown for processing.
Idaho farmers planted about 25,000 fewer acres of potatoes this year, with an estimated crop of about 11 billion pounds, Muir said.
“We have positioned ourselves very well for next year,” Muir said. “Prices should be pretty strong for this year’s crop.”