While conventional potato prices have skyrocketed in recent weeks on limited supplies and increasing demand, the organic potato demand/supply has been much more coordinated.
Lonnie Gillespie, Chief Organic Officer, Farm Fresh Direct
Lonnie Gillespie of Farm Fresh Direct in Monte Vista, CO, said organic prices have been very good, “but we did not run out of russets like we did on the conventional side. At least at Farm Fresh, we didn’t gap on organic potatoes,” she said, adding that the company started digging new crop russets in Colorado’s San Luis Valley a week ago.
“The new crop looks good; it’s a smaller potato, but it looks good,” she said. “It’s too early to tell how large the crop will be. We really won’t know that until mid-October.”
Harvesting of potato fields will be staggered over the next couple of months, Gillespie said, noting that it's difficult to estimate the size of the crop until most of it has been dug and placed in storage. “But barring any harvesting issues or storage problems, we are expecting to have a good crop this year.”
“The new crop looks good; it’s a smaller potato, but it looks good.” - Lonnie Gillespie
Robbie DeLeon of Columbia Basin Organics in Moses Lake, WA, said his firm did gap on Washington organic potatoes but started digging the new crop in mid-August and currently have good supplies of russets, yellows, and reds.
Robbie DeLeon, Sales/Transportation, Columbia Basin Organics
“We did run out at the tail end of our season and had to source from California. But we’re good now, and we do have promotable volume,” DeLeon said.
In fact, DeLeon said he is quoting cartons of organic russets at $35, which is less than some of the conventional prices he has heard this week. “I’ve heard as high as $39/$40 for a conventional carton, but that’s from sheds that don’t have any. I do not know if any are selling for that high, but it’s the first time I have ever heard of conventional potato quotes higher than organics,” he said.
“We did run out at the tail end of our season and had to source from California. But we’re good now, and we do have promotable volume.” - Robbie DeLeon
In Idaho, Stetson Banta of Eagle Eye Produce said conventional potato prices are still skyrocketing to close to unseen levels in his area. “Any large count conventional Idaho russet—a 40, 60, or 80—is returning $43-$45, which is higher than the organic price.”
Banta believes that the conventional market is going to stay well above average for a long time, which could impact organic supplies moving forward. Demand for organics will increase when they are priced below conventional potatoes, and if a grower can get even equal money for a conventional potato, Banta said there will be some growers that will cut back on their organic acreage next year. He noted that it is more difficult and more expensive to grow organic potatoes, and the yields are lower.
“Growers are telling us that the potato market is going to remain short for a long time,” he said. “It may not right itself for two years.”
The new crop of Idaho potatoes has started being dug, and Banta said that early reports indicate there is less acreage and lower yields. As a result, some seed potatoes will make their way into the higher-priced fresh market, which will negatively impact the supply situation a year from now.
“Growers are telling us that the potato market is going to remain short for a long time. It may not right itself for two years.” - Stetson Banta
For organics, Banta expects yellow and red potatoes to be short all year. He said organic russets should be in pretty good supply once the new crop has been harvested and stored, but it will be a waiting game to see how long supplies last.
The Idaho potato gap in late summer appears to be a harbinger of things to come. “I think we are going to see short supplies through 2022 into 2023 and all the way to next fall,” Banta said.