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FARM SCENE: Low Prices Cast Gloom on Harvest

September 24, 1996

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (AP) _ Potato farmers are becoming reacquainted with the law of supply and demand: Potatoes are plentiful and prices are plunging.

``Buyers are trying to say we’ve got a big crop coming, and we’re seeing some low-ball figures right now,″ said Bert Moulton of the Potato Growers of Idaho. He has heard of potatoes bringing farmers as little as $3 for a 100-pound sack.

``At that price, growers are probably losing money,″ Moulton said.

Barely a year ago, the price for Idaho potatoes in storage from the 1994 harvest was $8 per 100 pounds. Prices held steady at $8 to $9 through spring, but by July they had dropped to $4.90, according to the most recent report from the Idaho Agricultural Statistics Service.

A hint of good news in last week’s report was that while prices for Idaho spuds have dropped, potato prices in some parts of the country are holding steady. The July price for fresh potatoes was $9.51 per hundredweight. It is California and Washington growers who are getting that for their 1996 potatoes, dug this summer.

In Oregon, grower Chet Prior of Echo adds: ``We’ve got record high acreage in the West, so tonnage is going to be high, and the open market is starting to reflect that.″

Tony Amstad of Amstad Farms said he heard processors were paying as low as $30 a ton. ``Too many potatoes is the bottom line,″ he said.

Vast potato farms in Idaho, usually under contract with processors, were without contracts this year because stocks were so high. Processors can pick up those potatoes at a bargain price, Amstad noted, increasing inventories and keeping future demand down.

The occasional potato grower will be hardest hit, leaving the larger, full-time potato operations to continue next year, Amstad said.

Meanwhile, ``if there’s anything spud farmers can be happy about, it is the quality of the crop,″ Amstad said.

Shepody potatoes are above average in quality this year, with those of the ranger russet variety running about average, said Bob Hale of Hale Farms.

Hale said the russet Burbanks have not yet been harvested, but look to be of average quality. These are largely headed for storage.

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ALBANY, Ga. (AP) _ Georgia pecan growers could have their biggest and best crop in three years _ but not necessarily their most profitable.

A 100 million-pound crop is expected this year, most since the record 150 million pounds in 1993. Pecans have sold for an average of $80 million yearly over the past decade, making them the top horticultural crop in Georgia.

``It’s really not the Peach State. It’s the Pecan State,″ said Darrell Sparks, a University of Georgia pecan researcher in Athens. As for this year, he added, ``it would have been difficult to design a better growing season.″

The large crop could depress prices.

If growers don’t like the prices they’re offered, they can store their pecans in refrigerated warehouses and hold out for higher prices. Usually they start a new season with 80 million to 100 million pounds in storage, but this year the carryover is as much as 150 million pounds.

Prices averaged 56 cents per pound in 1993 when the state had a 150 million-pound crop; 97 cents in 1994 with a 65 million-pound crop; and $1.07 per pound with a 75 million-pound crop last year.