This year’s spud count was low, but high quality

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Photos courtesy Idaho Potato Commission

IDAHO FALLS — The weather didn’t always cooperate during the 2017 Idaho potato growing season, but in the end, producers turned out good-quality potatoes around the state.

“There is a lower yield this year primarily driven by too much cold and too much heat at the wrong times,” said Frank Muir, president and CEO of the Idaho Potato Commission. “Growers are good at what they do, but Mother Nature has the last word.”

Still, although fewer potatoes came out of the ground than expected, Muir said the ones that did were good quality and were a good tuber size, meaning easier to sell on the market.

“If you filled the Holt Arena from end zone to end zone (with this year’s potato harvest), it would be a mile high.”

In Idaho, 308,000 acres of potatoes were grown this year, which is 15,000 acres less than last year. About 13 billion pounds of potatoes were harvested.

“That’s a lot of potatoes,” Muir said. “If you filled the Holt Arena from end zone to end zone, it would be a mile high.”

The majority of Idaho’s potatoes are grown in farms ranging from the Magic Valley on up east Idaho. Sixty percent of Idaho’s potatoes are processed into frozen and dehydrated potato products, 30 percent head to the fresh retail and food service market, and about 10 percent are certified seed potatoes.

More than 25 varieties of potatoes are grown around the state. The number one potato variety grown in Idaho is the Russet Burbank, followed by other types of Russets: Norkotah, Ranger and Shephard. Also growing in popularity are other varieties such as yellow, red, purple, and fingerlings.

“The key to marketing is to carry the Grown in Idaho seal,” Muir said. Idaho potatoes are known the world over, and it’s for good reason, he said. “Idaho’s unique climate, soil and water make for better texture and flavor.”

Americans sure love their potatoes. According to the IPC, the average American eats about 113 pounds of potatoes each year.

“The equipment has progressed. You can get things done faster. … The efficiency is phenomenal.”

James Hoff, potato grower and commissioner for the IPC, recently harvested 275 acres of potatoes in Idaho Falls. He is selling his Russet Burbanks to GPOD in Shelley, which offers fresh potatoes to various companies.

Hoff grew up on a farm and remembers his dad also selling potatoes to GPOD. But a lot of things have changed with potato farming as well.

“The equipment has progressed,” said Hoff, who has been farming potatoes for 28 years. “You can get things done faster. The technology of the tractors has helped to increase comfort. The efficiency is phenomenal.”

He’s gone to a lot of IPC meetings over the years, and remembers back when there used to be a lot more potato farmers than there are now, but each farm is bigger. Still, he enjoys being on the smaller side.

“I like where I’m at,” he said.

This year, he said, the growing seasons was reasonable, with some hot days in there, but despite that, harvest went well.

“The tubers look nice,” he said.

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