Thin-skinned, fingerlings hit profit sweet spot in Kern County

04/26/2013 04:34:00 PM
Coral Beach

click image to zoomLehr Bros. spring potatoes in Kern CountyCourtesy Lehr Bros. Inc.Employees of Lehr Bros. Inc., Edison, Calif., sort and inspect potatoes harvested April 22 in Kern County. These potatoes were destined for specialty consumer packs in Canada. Potato growers in Kern County, Calif., are optimistic about the 2013 harvest, though it may be delayed as much as two weeks from normal for some of them because of unusually cool weather in recent weeks.

The growers are thankful the county did not have the extreme cold that hit nearby desert areas, where yields for thin-skinned and specialty varieties are down. Russet volumes are also down, but that’s because growers planted fewer this season.

“No one anticipated good yields from the desert this year,” said Brett Dixon, president of Top Brass Marketing, Shafter, Calif. “So I don’t think we will have the oversupply that we did last year.”

Dixon said the harvest schedule is progressing through California as anticipated, with crews working the El Centro area the last 10 days of April. He said he expects his Kern County harvest to begin about May 6.

Muke Kundert, president Kundert Bros. FarmsCourtesy Kundert Bros. FarmsMike Kundert, president of Kundert Bros. Farms Inc., Edicon, Calif., checks the status of his fingerling potatoes.The fields where Kundert Bros. Farms Inc., Edison, Calif., grows all colors of fingerlings are running a bit earlier, said office manager Nicole Vergano. She said company president Mike Kundert said he expects to begin harvesting at the end of April.

The microclimates in California’s growing regions can change in a few days time, said Pete Belluomini, vice president of farming for Lehr Bros. Inc., Edison. The company was already harvesting specialty potatoes April 22.

“We’re actually in much better shape than we thought about two weeks ago,” Belluomini said.

“The quality looks good and we were able to make up some time in the past two weeks to offset cooler temperatures earlier. But we are still having cool mornings for this late in spring.”

Prices

Belluomini echoed Dixon’s comments about the low volumes coming out of the Imperial Valley. He described the frosts in the valley earlier this year as devastating. Belluomini said frost in Florida’s potato regions is further decreasing overall volumes.

The low volumes in other regions mean prices should be stable and strong for Kern County potatoes, Belluomini said.

Dixon and Vergano also said they expect stable and strong prices for the nonrusset varieties coming out of Kern County this season.

Russets losing ground

Increasing plantings of russets in other regions of the country have created an overall surplus, raising concerns about pricing and encouraging Kern County growers to whittle their plantings of the big, thick-skinned potatoes.


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