Heat may shrink E. Oregon potato crop

PENDLETON — Hot weather will likely cause a lighter yield of Eastern Oregon potatoes, and smaller spuds than usual.

But growers in the region say the hot weather, including a string of 110-degree days, won't cause major problems.

Oregon planted close to 40,000 acres of potatoes in 2013, of which 25,000-30,000 acres are found around Hermiston and Boardman, The East Oregonian reported.

"We don't have disaster years," Don Horneck at Oregon State University's Hermiston Agricultural Research said. "This may be the premier area in the world for growing potatoes."

A combination of light, sandy soil and almost pure water from the Columbia River makes the irrigated region of north Umatilla and Morrow counties the top potato producer in the state.

Bill Brewer, CEO of the Oregon Potato Commission, said he believes growers will produce a yield that's close to average.

—‰'Average' in the potato world still means there's a good quality crop coming," Brewer said.

In Oregon, 75 percent of potatoes are processed and 15 percent of the products exported to countries such as Japan, Taiwan and South Korea, according to the potato commission. Nearly 25 percent of all french fries exported from the United States come from Oregon.

Oregon has one of the highest average yields of potatoes at 58,500 pounds per acre, second only to Washington. Eastern Oregon growers lead the way, producing 61,000 to 62,000 pounds per acre.

The region's hot days and cool nights boost sugar content in potatoes, which translates into starch. The same principle is what makes juicy Hermiston watermelons a major point of pride in the community.

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