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A Fresh Take on Potatoes and Onions

What variety and innovation look like for two stalwart staples

In this roundup of potato and onion-themed trends, we take a look at new varieties and fresh spins on old favorites, plenty of grab-and-go produce launches, and a host of integrated marketing tools. We explore the special love consumers have for these time-honored favorites and how industry segments are capitalizing on the amazing versatility of potatoes and onions. Each remains a distinctive and essential ingredient in countless dishes, from traditional to exotic, in cuisine across the globe.

In the United States, which ranks fourth in world production, potatoes represent a $3.75 billion annual industry. The state most commonly associated with potato growing is, of course, Idaho. Roughly one-third of the nation’s acreage dedicated to potatoes can be found in Idaho, known for its rich, volcanic soil and optimum high-altitude climate of warm, sunny days and cool nights.

Smaller Crop, Better Quality
For 2017, planting in Idaho was down a little less than 5 percent, to just under 308,000 acres, according to Travis Blacker, industry relations director for the Idaho Potato Commission in Boise, ID.

Yields were expected to be smaller than last year, mostly due to cooler than average temperatures at the beginning of the season. Despite less product, however, Blacker says the “quality looks good” for the current crop.

Ralph Schwartz, vice president of marketing at Potandon Produce in Idaho Falls, echoed Blacker’s assessment. Schwartz says 2016-17’s potatoes were “plagued with quality issues, especially from the storage crop (March through July),” but the 2017-18 crop is “dramatically improved.” Regarding the effects of weather, he also noted that hotter than normal temperatures during the summer contributed to “a smaller set,” namely, fewer potatoes on each plant.

In Wisconsin, third behind Idaho and Washington in production, a high quality though statistically smaller potato crop was also the case. Dick Okray, president of Okray Farms in Plover, said the grower-shipper usually plans for annual yields around 1 million hundredweight, of which typically 750,000 hundredweight is stored for marketing year-round. Despite “a good looking crop,” Okray anticipates a 10 to 12 percent reduction in tonnage for the season.

Pricing & Varieties
The general forecast by industry analysts for a tightened supply in the fall was expected to result in more favorable prices for growers across the board. Although continuing to dedicate the majority of their acreage to popular russet varieties (the most widely used potato in foodservice, responsible for more than half of all U.S. potatoes sold), Idaho growers have also been planting more reds and yellows each year, according to Blacker.