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

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

click image to zoomTop Brass potatoes from Kern CountyCourtesy Top Brass MarketingTop Brass Marketing hasn't planted conventional russets for several years in Kern County because excess storage potatoes have made other varieties more profitable. The company re-entered the fingerling deal this year because of the growing popularity of the small spuds.Russets plantings are down in Kern County from 65% to 75%, depending on who you ask. Joe Nunez, farm adviser for the University of California-Davis Kern County Extension Office, confirmed the decrease is because the russet market is so bad.

“Very few russet potatoes were planted, but the reds, whites and yellows are at normal levels,” Nunez said.

Belluomini described the russet plantings in Kern County as “almost nil” this season. He said the county probably only has about 25% of the russets compared to a normal year.

“It’s because of the amount in storage,” Belluomini said.

“We’ve been relegated pretty much to the specialty varieties in this region. We are being asked more and more for the smaller sizes — they used to be a byproduct, and now we are selling them and looking for varieties that grow smaller potatoes because demand is so high.”

Other growers confirmed the trend in Kern County is toward smaller and specialty potatoes.

Top Brass Marketing, for example, is back in the fingerling deal this season after sitting out for a year. Company president Dixon said Top Brass did fingerlings for about six years but they didn’t feel they had the correct varieties. Research during the 2012 season led them to a couple of different varieties that Dixon said are expected to sell well this season.

Top Brass hasn’t planted conventional russets for more than a decade, said Dixon. The company does have organic russets in Kern County, but Dixon said he had heard the conventional russet plantings for 2013 are down about 65%.

Kundert Bros. specializes in fingerlings only, focusing on the big profits that the small potatoes provide, said Vergano.

“The banana fingerlings are still the most popular,” she said. “The other colors switch around as far as demand goes, but they all sell well.”

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