"Work like you don't need the money; dance like nobody's watching." -- Anonymous
In 2007 Oregon growers produced almost 20 million sacks on 36,500 acres (see Figure 2). Typically almost 30 million sacks are produced on about 60,000 acres with a farm-gate value typically approaching $150 million. However, because most of the Oregon crop is processed, total finished value is close to $300 million. Based on finished value, potatoes typically rank first or second among Oregon crops. Potato processing is highly labor intensive. Consequently, the personnel payroll from potatoes, approximately $60 million at present, exceeds that of all other agronomic crops combined.
Oregon production is primarily located in eastern Oregon with major centers in the Columbia Basin of Morrow and Umatilla counties, the Treasure Valley, and the Klamath Basin. Smaller centers occur in the north Willamette Valley and Central Oregon around Madras and Culver.
While soil and temperature regimes vary with elevation and other factors, all eastern Oregon producing areas have low rainfall, often less than 12 inches/year. Irrigation is essential throughout Oregon, even in the Willamette Valley which receives about 43 inches of rain annually, but very little during the growing season.
For a short discussion of individual producing areas, click on any of the following links. Geographical locations are shown in the Oregon Map, below.
Oregon's leading production area is located in the Columbia Basin of Morrow and Umatilla counties with approximately 22,250 acres produced in 2007, or about 60% of the state total. Production is centered around Boardman, Hermiston, and Umatilla. Area soils are typically extremely sandy with low water-holding capacity, often less than one inch per foot available. Irrigation water is derived primarily from the Columbia and Umatilla rivers. Approximately 30 inches of water is required for a full-season Russet Burbank crop. Water is typically applied through low pressure, center pivot sprinkler systems averaging 120 acres per unit.
While the Columbia Basin accounts for only about 50% of the Oregon acreage, because of extremely high yields, it produces about 60% of the total Oregon crop. Local yields average slightly above 27 tons or 545 sacks per acre compared to 23.4 and 468, respectively, for the state as a whole. Full-season Russet Burbank plantings typically exceed 30 tons/acre. High yields are favored by a number of factors including an extremely long growing season; ideal weather with clear, warm days and cool nights; abundant water; and predictable growing conditions which allow timely field operations and the maintenance of ideal soil moisture. The availability and widespread use of technical expertise also favors high yields.
Columbia Basin production is geared primarily toward frozen processing, especially frozen fries. However, up to 25% of the crop is marketed through other channels, especially for tablestock use. A small amount is used for chipping.
North East Oregon (Union, Baker, and Wallowa Counties) is primarily a seed producing region, producing about 4,700 acres in 2007, 1,080 of which was seed. Winter weather conditions are much colder than other potato producing areas, summer temperatures are mild (50-85F), rainfall is more abundant but insufficient to produce a crop without irrigation. Soils are generally light to moderately heavy tills and often with high pH. Irrigation is pivot or standing pipe.
Yields in NE Oregon range from 350-450 sacks per acre. NE Oregon has become Oregon's largest seed producing area.
The Treasure Valley of southeastern Oregon around Ontario and Vail produced about 3,500 acres in 2007 (down from a more typical acreages around 10,000 acres). Treasure Valley potatoes are produced almost exclusively for frozen processing. Weather conditions somewhat resemble those of the Columbia Basin but temperatures tend to be slightly more extreme. Soils are also generally much heavier than Columbia Basin soils. Consequently, Treasure Valley growers have traditionally relied on furrow irrigation. However, the association of so-called sugar-end or dark-end fry problems and relatively poor grade-out with furrow irrigation has caused many local growers to switch to sprinklers despite higher total costs. Because of Russet Burbank's extreme susceptibility to the dark-end fry syndrome, almost half of the local acreage has switched to Shepody in recent years. Treasure Valley growers typically derive irrigation water from the Malheur and Snake Rivers and wells.
The Oregon portion of the Klamath Basin produces slightly more than 15% of the Oregon crop on about 6,200 acres in 2007. Substantial acreages also exist in the California portion of the Basin. With the exception of some 750 acres of seed (in 2007), Klamath stocks are grown almost exclusively for fresh market and marketed primarily in California. A small acreage is also used for chipping.
Unlike the Columbia Basin and Treasure Valley, the Klamath Basin is a high-elevation (4,000'), short-season region which is subject to frost throughout the growing season. For that reason, solid-set irrigation is widely used to not only grow the crop but also provide frost protection on cold nights. Water is obtained primarily from the Klamath Lake system. Despite a much shorter growing season, yields approach those of the Treasure Valley, averaging 400 sacks.
Central Oregon growers produced about 700 acres in 2007 for the fresh market and another 333 acres of seed. No fresh market potatoes were produced in 2008. Production is heavily concentrated in Jefferson County in the Culver and Madras areas, with some seed production in the Lone Pine area of Crook County. Elevation averages from 3,000 to 4,000 feet. Consequently, because of the associated short growing season, average yields fall well below 400 sacks. Water is relatively available via canals from the Deschutes and Crooked rivers and other sources.
Willamette Valley farmers grow about 900 acres in 2007 (down from 2,000 acres in previous years), divided approximately equally between the fresh and chip markets. Production is concentrated in the north end of the Valley in Clackamas, Marion, Multnomah and Washington counties. The growing season can be extremely short because of winter rains which sometimes begin in early October and extend through early June. Soils are typically heavy and are slow to warm and dry in the spring. Yields average about 365 sacks per acre.
The Willamette Valley experiences late blight every season with frequent severe outbreaks. All fields must be routinely sprayed with fungicides. Heavy dews extending well into mid-morning in August guarantee the presence of inoculum even in the absence of rain. With the exception of rainfall patterns, growing conditions in the Vally mimic those of midwestern and eastern U.S. production areas. Western Oregon typically receives very little rainfall from early June through September; consequently, all fields are irrigated throughout the growing season.
See Figure 2 for a distribution chart of commercial and seed production in 2007.
[Updated: Monday, May 2, 2011]