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Columbia Basin potato farmers pleased with harvest

Columbia Basin potato farmers pleased with harvest

As fall potato harvest wraps up around the Columbia Basin, farmers are expecting above-average yield and quality thanks to an exceptional growing season.

November 11, 2016
As fall potato harvest wraps up around the Columbia Basin, farmers are expecting above-average yield and quality thanks to an exceptional growing season.

Bill Brewer, CEO of the Oregon Potato Commission, said early spring conditions helped to jump-start the crop’s growth, while summer cooled off enough to avoid stifling the plants. Most farms finished harvesting ahead of schedule, Brewer said, with only minimal delays from October’s record rainfall.

Bill Brewer, CEO of the Oregon Potato Commission:

“The weather was actually very cooperative.”

“It ended up working out well.”
According to the National Weather Service in Pendleton, 1.9 inches of rain fell last month at the Hermiston Municipal Airport, making it the wettest October on record. Downtown Pendleton also received 2.32 inches of rain, making it the third-wettest October there since 1900.

Soggy weather can make for a difficult time harvesting potatoes — especially spuds bound for the storage shed. If there’s too much mud, it could block airflow to the plants and cause them to rot before they can be sold to supermarkets or food processors.

Fortunately, the early start allowed most growers to avoid that issue, Brewer said. The Columbia Basin is also home to sandy, well-drained soils that dry out more quickly, meaning farmers don’t have to wait long after it rains to get back out into the fields.

Bill Brewer:

“I really don’t think it was an issue.”

“Most people were done by the time the moisture really started coming.”
Greg Harris, farm manager for Threemile Canyon Farms near Boardman, said they finished harvesting storage potatoes by Oct. 10, which was a few days ahead of schedule. The farm grows 7,000 acres worth of spuds — including several varieties of Russets — which are sold to processors including french fry giant Lamb Weston.

Greg Harris, farm manager for Threemile Canyon Farms:

“Because most of the rain came during the second half of October, most people had the bulk of storage done,.”

“Otherwise, it definitely would have been a problem for us.”
Along with storage, Threemile Canyon delivers potatoes directly from the field to customers through early November. That’s where having sandy, absorbent soils comes as a benefit, Harris said. In particular, processing plants around the Tri-Cities leaned heavily on the farm during the late October rains.

Greg Harris:

“They were almost doubling our output out of here for three or four days to get potatoes to those plants.”
The early season growing conditions have made for an excellent crop, Harris said. He estimates production to be about two tons per acre higher than usual.

Greg Harris:

“We’re happy with how it turned out.”

“Certainly, it was one of our better crops.”
Statewide, Oregon farmers grew nearly 1.22 million tons of potatoes in 2015, worth $176.45 million. Brewer said the region from Hermiston to Boardman averages 30-plus tons per acre, mostly for processing into products like fries, potato chips and potato flakes.

Basin Gold, a cooperative of Oregon and Washington growers, also specializes in producing and marketing fresh market potatoes, like the ones on supermarket shelves. Bud-Rich Potato, of Hermiston, is part of that co-op.

Most farms should be producing at or above average throughout the area, Brewer said.

Bill Brewer:

“Everybody had a pretty good fall harvest.”
Companies in this Article
The Oregon Potato Commission represents the potato Industry in Oregon.