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Covid-19 brings mixed news for Colorado potatoes

The good news in Colorado’s fresh potato industry is that retail demand has been very strong this spring, because of, or in spite of, the Coronavirus pandemic. Tad Thompson reports for The Produce News.

James Ehrlich, the executive director of the Colorado Potato Administrative Committee, said movement from Colorado potato storages is so strong that those shippers may finish distributing the 2019 crop by July. “Prices are strong,” he added in an April 29 interview.

The discouraging coronavirus news for the Colorado — and national potato industry — is the decline in foodservice sales. Foodservice operators in the United States and export markets are, of course, huge buyers of frozen potato products.

Given plummeting demand, frozen potato processors canceled many orders with Washington state and Idaho growers after those crops had been planted according to frozen potato contracts.

Thus, “the whole market structure is a mess!” Jehrlich indicated.

Colorado growers primarily produce for the retail market, with some sales to foodservice. But what could be expected excessive fresh market volume from Washington and Idaho will likely cause a ripple effect in the potato industry. Jehrlich said 85 percent of Washington’s potato production goes to freezing processors. That is true for 40 percent of Idaho’s enormous potato production.

“Our growers are used to risk, but this is a unique situation,” Jehrlich said.

He noted that no one working in Colorado potato warehouses this spring has become sick with COVID-19. The Colorado potato industry started planting the 2020 crop around April 15. That work should be completed by May 15.

Jehrlich expects a production of about 50,000 acres this year, which is on par with recent production. Colorado’s potato harvest will begin in September, depending on the growing season.

Source: The Produce News
Photo: Colorado State University professor Dave Holm is a horticulturalist at the university’s San Luis Valley Research Center. He and his team have developed varieties that grow better in the valley’s conditions, including the red-fleshed Mountain Rose

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Lukie Pieterse, Editor and Publisher

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