Writer: Marianne Toombs, (806) 746-6101
Contact: Dr. Roland Roberts, (806) 746-6101
LUBBOCK–While potato growers in other parts of the country are suffering from overproduction and resulting low prices, potato growers in West Texas probably won’t have to face that problem this season.
Potato growers in this area have a relatively small market volume compared to other production areas, said Dr. Roland Roberts, vegetable specialist with the Texas Agricultural Extension Service. West Texas potato growers produce about 300 million pounds of potatoes each year out of the 44.1 billion produced in the United States.
The local crop is grown on approximately 12,000 acres of land, mainly in Bailey, Lamb, Gaines, Castro, Parmer, Hale and Dallam counties. Planting on the High Plains occurs in March and April with harvest usually beginning in the middle of June. The West Texas growing season is in competition with growing seasons on the East Coast and California.
Planting dates have a big influence on the production of potatoes. When the temperature is above 85 degrees, potatoes have a harder time enlarging tubers. Potatoes will grow better if night temperatures drop below 60 degrees.
A hard freeze on April 12 killed potato plants back into the ground, Roberts said, but many fields have since recovered.
“The potato crop is looking good but not as good as usual,” said Cliff Black, Springlake Potato Co. “The rain and cold weather have been a problem getting the potato crop started. Many of the growers and farmers are quitting the potato business because they are too old, and there is no one to continue the business,” Black said.
“In recent years there has not been an overproduction problem in West Texas that would make the market drop,” said Roberts. “Sometimes there is a small surplus of the later maturing russet baking potatoes when our growing season overlaps the growing season of Colorado and Eastern Oklahoma. This will cause the price of the potatoes to drop somewhat,” he said.
When there is a surplus of summer potatoes, growers have to take a lower price or abandon some potato acreage because summer potatoes can not be stored long. Summer harvesting stresses the potatoes. To protect these potatoes from starting to rot before they can get to the consumer they have to be conditioned and transported at temperatures of 60-65 degrees.
Roberts said there are some problems that go with growing potatoes on the High Plains. One factor is that farmers have no marketing order with the USDA. A marketing order is a industry-grower-supported research and market development program. Areas that do have these programs have a strong marketing advantage, Roberts said. These agreements allow farmers to contribute money to a fund that pays for market development and field research which benefits growers in the area covered by the order.