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Potato glut hits region's farmers

Farmers from Southern Oregon and Northern California are among those encouraging the federal government to intercede and ease an oversupply of potatoes that threatens farmers? profitability.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released the fall potato report indicating that the 2000 crop is 7.8 percent greater than the 1999 crop and an all-time record. The fall crop came in at 463.5 million hundredweight or 33.5 million hundredweight more than the 1999 fall crop. The large 1999 crop caused marketing problems with prices to the grower below the cost of production.

Two Klamath Basin growers, Matt McVay of Malin and Bob rne of Tulelake, joined a group from Idaho Monday in Washington, D.C., to meet with USDA representatives and 2nd District Congressman Greg Walden, R-Ore., to discuss their proposal to pull about 13 percent of the crop — 60 million hundredweight — off the market.

Northwest potato growers said at a meeting Nov. 10 in Idaho Falls, Idaho, that it would take a diversion of at least 40 million hundredweight of potatoes to bring supply in line with demand and possibly return a profit to farmers.

Idaho led the fall crop production with an acreage increase of 5 percent and a total production increase of 8.5 percent. Most fall crop growing areas realized a yield increase credited to an exceptional growing year, growers say.

Government programs to take potatoes out of the market were used most recently in 1996 to reduce stocks when low potato prices threatened farmers with bankruptcy. Diverted potatoes were utilized as cow feed or buried. They cannot be used for any form of human consumption.

Diversion is only a short term fix, a band-aid, said John Cross, manager of the Newell Potato Co-op in Modoc County, Calif..

Producers going broke doesn't cut down the acreage. The neighbor that is financially stronger picks up the acreage and continues raising potatoes on the same ground.

If we do not find a way to limit the acres planted to potatoes, we will continually face this problem of overproduction. Both yields and grade out percentages have increased dramatically in the last few years. We are selling as much as 30 percent more potatoes grown on the same acres.