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Wet spring, dry growing season can't slow Skagit Valley spuds

The red, white, gold and purple potatoes that grow so well in Washington’s topographically diverse Skagit Valley are not only a sought-after consumer product but are also a major component of the region’s brisk ag economy.

Agriculture has long been the primary industry generated on approximately 90,000 acres in the Skagit Valley of the Cascade Mountain Range. Skagit farmers produce some $300 million in a variety of crops that include potatoes, berries, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumbers and the iconic tulips and daffodils as well as livestock and dairy products.opener-photo-for-skagit-valleyThe 2017 Skagit Valley potato season will begin shortly after Labor Day, according to grower-shippers in the region.

The Washington Department of Agriculture reported on its website’s marketing page, found at https://agr.wa.gov/Marketing/SmallFarm/docs/SkagitValley.pdf, that “Each year the Skagit Valley grows over 80 crops on 93,000 acres, including” some 300 million pounds of red, yellow and white potatoes. Moreover, “Approximately 95 percent of the red potatoes grown in Washington state are grown in the Skagit Valley.”

In a draft of the WSU Skagit County Extension Agriculture Statistics for 2016 that was posted at http://extension.wsu.edu/skagit/wp-content/uploads/sites/29/2014/02/Skagit-Ag-Stats-2016.pdf, reports were presented on numerous crops for the 2015-16 season.

In the potato segment, it was reported that “Potatoes have become a very important crop with acreage expanding significantly over the past 15 years. Other crops, such as cole [cruciferous] crops, vegetable seed crops, cucumbers, flower bulbs, and small fruits contribute less in gross dollars but are very important. The net return to the grower on these crops is relatively high, and they provide diversification and many jobs.”

The report described acreage as consisting primarily of “fresh market reds, whites, yellows, purple, fingerlings and some chipping potatoes. Skagit potatoes are in demand for their high quality.” It added, “Because of the need for a three-year rotation, there is limited ground available for the 12,000 acres of potatoes currently grown in Skagit County. Overall production remained constant for 2015. The disadvantage in 2016 was that once the wet spring turned, things opened up for the growers; they scrambled to get enough water on the crop during the drought.”

Growers this year have described record precip over the winter and into spring 2017, but they have also noted dry conditions for the past several weeks. The consensus has been that irrigation has mitigated the dry weather, and this year’s colored variety and specialty crop has sized up nicely.

Notably, the number of organic producers in all Skagit County items continues to increase, and potato grower-shippers are among those certified.

The draft report indicated that in 2016 “there were 55 certified organic producers, two secondary companies/producers and one producer transitioning to organic production in Skagit County on 7,844 acres and 68 acres in transition.” It continued, “Organic production in Skagit County is valued at $21,400,000 making it the highest organic agricultural producing county in western Washington.”