Mimeo Report 62-16
SOME ECONOMIC ASPECTS OF THE POTATO
INDUSTRY IN FLORIDA
R. E. L. Greene
Department of Agricultural Economics
Florida Agricultural Experiment Stations
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Introduction . . * .* 1
Production . . .. . 2
Yield per acre and Total Production. . . 2
Production Areas in Florida. . . . 2
Winter and Spring Crop Production . . 3
Farm Management Factors. .. ..... ... 4
Soil Types ........... . * 4
Size of Farm and Type of Farming .. ....... 4
Farm Management Problems ......... 5
Seasonal Patterns of Production . . 6
Production Risks ........ . 6
Topography . . 7
Drainage and Irrigation. ......... 8
Credit and Financing .. ......... 8
Production Patterns. . .... .. ...... 9
Soil Preparation ...... .. ........ 9
Planting-Seed. . . .... . 9
Fertilization Practices. . . . 10
Cultivation. . . . * *... 11
Insect and Disease Control . .. . 11
Vine Killing . . . . 12
Harvesting and Handling Potatoes to Packinghouse . 12
Time of Harvest. . . . 12
Harvesting and Handling Equipment. . . 13
Extent of Mechanization. . . . 14
Effect on Quality of Different Harvesting Methods. 14
Cost of Harvesting and Handling Potatoes to the
Packinghouse . .. ............ 15
Preparation of Potatoes for Market .... . 15
Number of Packinghouses ..... ... .. 16
Storage at Packinghouse. . . . 16
Sizing, Washing, Drying and Grading Potatoes 17
Containers and Type of Pack. .. ... . 18
Labor System . . . . . 18
Cost of Packinghouse Operation . . 19
TABLE OF CONTENTS-continued
Marketing of Potatoes. . . . 20
Movement of Potatoes and Competition . . 20
Quality of the Crop. . . .. 21
Inspection . . . . 21
Transportation and Distribution. . . 22
Sales Organization and Method of Sales . 22
Usual Outlets. . .. . . 23
Disposition of Off-Grades. . . . 24
Price of Potatoes. .. . . 25
Growing Potatoes Under Contract. . . 26
Summary . . . . . . 27
Publications Submitted as Evidence . . . 29
SOME ECONOMIC ASPECTS OF THE POTATO
INDUSTRY IN FLORIDA
The material in this report is substantially the same as that
presented at a hearing in Atlanta, Georgia, on April 17, 1962 on a pro-
posed National Potato Marketing Agreement and Order. The material was
prepared in order to present selected economic data relative to the
production and marketing of potatoes in Florida. This publication is
presented to furnish growers and others with similar information which
they may find useful in making future production or policy decisions
relative to the potato industry in the state. The material included
attempts to briefly summarize:
1. Background information relative to the production of potatoes
and the organization of potato farmers in Florida.
2. Trends in the production of potatoes and in marketing
3. Some aspects of cost, price and income problems in the state
which are integrally associated with a relatively inelastic
market demand, and the variability from year-to-year in the
amount and quality of potatoes produced both within the state
and in the late crop areas during the preceding season.
In the prepared statement, an attempt was made to be brief
but still cover the important points. Much of the supporting statistical
background data were omitted. Reference listed at the end of the report
included a large amount of statistical data relating to the potato in-
dustry in Florida.
Historically, commercial production of Irish potatoes in Florida
began in the Hastings area in the late nineties. It increased rapidly
and by 1920 it was the chief enterprise in St. Johns and Flager counties.
Since the 1920 season, total acres harvested in the state have ranged
from 16,000 in the 1920-21 season to 54,300 in the 1956-57 season.
Acreage harvested in the 1960-61 season was 34,100.
Yield Per Acre and Total Production
Per acre yields have shown a significant increase only since
World War II. The greatest increase occurred during the period 1950-
54. The highest yield on record occurred in the 1953-54 season when
the state average was 178 hundredweight per acre. Average yield for
the seasons 1954-55 to 1958-59 was 140 hundredweight per acre, which
was nearly 35 percent more than the average yield during the five
seasons 1944-45 to 1948-49. The increase in yield per acre together
with an increase in acreage from the low point reached during the
1947-48 season, resulted in a substantial increase in total
production. The largest production on record was the 7,076,000
hundredweights harvested during the 1956-57 season. For the five
seasons 1954-55 to 1958-59, production averaged 6,034,000 hundred-
weights. This was 119 percent larger than the average 1945-49 production.
Production in the 1959-60 season was 4,535,000 hundredweights which
was the smallest production in nine years.
Increase in production of potatoes in Florida, relative to that
for the United States, has resulted in Florida becoming a more im-
portant factor in the potato market. Florida produced 2.9 percent of
the total United States production in 1956-57 and 2 percent in 1960-
61 compared to less than 1 percent during the years 1935-39.
Production Areas In Florida
Potatoes in Florida are produced mainly in three major and three
minor concentrated areas each different from the other in time of crop
movement, soils and climate. The largest is known as the Hastings
area and involves St. Johns, Flagler and Putnam counties. Usually
associated with the Hastings area is Clay County and the LaCrosse area
in Alachua County. The second largest area is the Lower East Coast
area. About 90 percent of the production in this area is in Dade
County. The Dade area is known as the Homestead-Goulds or South
Allapattah district. The third largest area is the Fort Myers-
Immokalee area in Lee, Collier and Hendry counties. The three minor
areas include the Everglades area around Lake Okeechobee, the Hillsboro-
Manatee area in Hillsboro and adjoining counties and the West Florida
area in Escambia County.
Winter and Spring Crop Production
The commercial Irish potato crop in the state is classified
into Winter and Spring production. The winter crop is produced in
Dade, Palm Beach, Lee, Collier and Hendry counties. The Spring crop
is grown in St. Johns, Flagler, Putnam, Clay, Alachua and Escambia
counties with a relative small volume of production from a few other
North and South Florida counties. Ninety percent or more of the
production in South Florida is of red varieties. About 90 to 95 per-
cent of the production in the Hastings area is of white varieties. The
Hastings area accounts for more than four-fifths of all white potatoes
grown in the state.
At the present time, about one-third of the acreage in the
state is in potatoes for Winter harvest and about two-thirds in
potatoes for Spring harvest. The fluctuation in acreage from year to
year for the two crops is usually quite similar. However, since 1956-
57, the decline in acres for Winter harvest has been greater than that
for Spring harvest.
The proportion of the Winter crop grown in Dade County has
fluctuated widely being about 80 percent in the 1947-48 season,
less than 50 percent in the 1956-57 season and 63 percent in 1960-61.
Plantings in the Collier-Hendry-Lee and Palm Beach-Martin county
areas have been erratic.
Normally 80 percent or more of the Spring potato acreage is
grown in the Hastings area but the amount fluctuates from year to
year. The proportion of the Spring crop grown in the Hastings area
declined from the 1940-41 to 1945-46 season, reaching a low of 57
percent in that year. The proportion of the Spring acreage grown in
other North Florida counties has fluctuated from 15 to a low of 3
percent annually. For the five seasons 1956-57 to 1960-61, 84 percent
of the Spring acreage was grown in the Hastings area, 5 percent in
other North Florida counties, 6 percent in South Florida counties
and 5 percent in other counties including West Florida.
FARM MANAGEMENT FACTORS
The predominating potato soils in the Hastings area are the
Bladen, Portsmouth, Scranton and Ona fine sands. Potatoes are also
grown on Leon and St. Johns fine sands which contain an organic hard
pan. These types of soils are found in many flatwood areas of the
state. When properly drained and supplied with sufficient moisture
they are well adapted to potato production. The potato soils of
southern Dade County are quite different from those found anywhere
else in the United States. In general they consist of a layer,
two or three feet deep, of highly calcareous marl over oolite limerock.
Good potato land in the area is characterized as being deeper and better
drained than other marl soil in the vicinity. The soils of the Ever-
glades area are of organic origin. Potatoes are most extensively
planted on the "custard apple" muck and "saw grass" peat soils, which
vary from 3 to 10 feet in depth and are underlain with limestone. The
major potato soils of the West Coast are predominantly sandy soil such
as Leon fine sand. They consist chiefly of pine and cabbage palmetto
land, underlain at a depth of several feet with a clay subsoil. The
soils of the Middle East Coast area around Fort Pierce and Vero Beach
in St. Lucie and Indian River counties are nearly all sandy, consisting
principally of a dark gray to black sandy surface soil with a somewhat
plastic, brownish-red subsoil, underlain with limestone. These soils
are normally more moist than the Bladen series, and somewhat more fertile,
having a higher content of organic matter.
Size of Farm and Type of Farming
Farms on which potatoes are grown vary from small to reasonably
large. Production is usually highly specialized, often with potatoes
being the main or only source of cash income. In Central and South
Florida many of the growers own their land but a sizeable acreage is
cash rented. In North Florida, the modal tenure pattern is that of'
owner-operator. The United States Census of Agriculture reported
25 farmers growing potatoes in Dade County in 1959 with an average of
234 acres per farm. A list compiled of potato producers in the Hastings
area for 1957 showed 269 growers; 68 percent of which had less than
100 acres in potatoes, 23 percent 100 to 249 acres and 9 percent
250 acres or more.
In Dade County the major crop competing with potatoes is tomatoes.
In the Hastings area, many of the farmers who grow potatoes also grow
cabbage. Estimates compiled from a survey of potato producers in
1958 showed that in the 1957-58 season 55 percent grew both potatoes
and cabbage. Farmers that grew only potatoes had an average of 87
acres. Those who grew both potatoes and cabbage had an average of 107
acres in potatoes and 37 in cabbage.
In Dade County potatoes and tomatoes are competing enterprises.
The average returns from potatoes has been slightly better than the
average returns from tomatoes. For the five seasons, 1952-53 to 1956-
57, the net returns from potatoes were $68 per acre and the net returns
from tomatoes $34. In Dade County in the 1960-61 season, net
returns for potatoes was $28 per acre but tomatoes showed a net loss
of $84 per acre.
In the Hastings area, cabbage is a risky enterprise from the
standpoint of price. However, farmers grow cabbage as a supplementary
enterprise as it normally makes possible a fuller use of labor, equipment
and other resources when they are not needed on the potato enterprise.
Any returns above cash costs of production may increase net farm income,
although a loss would be indicated if the cabbage enterprise had to bear
its share of the indirect costs. In the Hastings area, during the five
seasons 1952-53 to 1956-57, cabbage showed a net return of minus $62
per acre while potatoes showed a net return of $85 per acre. However,
net returns from potatoes in the 1956-57 season were minus $82 per acre.
In the 1960-61 season, cabbage in the Hastings area showed a net return
of minus $57 per acre. Irish potatoes showed a net return of $15 per acre.
Farm Management Problems
The operators of potato farms are faced with farm management problems
that are related to specialized enterprises with fairly short seasons of
production, peak labor requirements and high cash costs of production.
The work of land preparation, planting, cultivating and harvesting
potatoes does not extend over a period of more than six months. Peak
labor requirements also occur at time of planting and especially at
harvest. This makes the problem of having an adequate labor supply
difficult. Growing costs alone for potatoes vary from $230 to $340
per acre of which seed, fertilizer and spray materials alone amount to
$110 to $195 per acre.
Potato growers in Florida do not follow a definite crop rotation
program as practiced in some sections of the United States. Many of the
fields are planted in potatoes year after year. Maintaining production
is a problem on some of the "old potato lands." Since most of the soils
are low in organic matter, humus is added by turning under a summer
cover crop. In the Hastings area different varieties of sorghum,
mostly sart, are usually planted on the land as soon as potatoes
are harvested to be turned under as cover crops before the next season.
Some corn is also planted following potatoes. In addition to planted
crops, volunteer crabgrass and cocklebur crops are also grown during
the summer and early fall months. In Dade County many of the farmers
follow potatoes with sesbania or sorghum. The selection of cover crops
is made more difficult because certain cover crops may promote the
growth of nematodes and make their control more difficult.
Seasonal Patterns of Production
Potato production in the various areas follow a definite seasonal
pattern. The earliest production is in the Everglades area, followed
by Fort-Myers-Ilmokalee area, Dade County and then the Hastings area.
Potatoes in the Hillsboro-Manatee area are marketed about the same
time as those in the Hastings area. Potatoes in West Florida move
along with the Alabama crop.
Planting of the early crop in the Everglades area usually begins
about the middle of September. The last planting in the state is in
West Florida in February. Harvesting of the Everglades crop begins
about the middle of December. Harvesting moves from area to area and
some harvesting continues in the state until June or early July.
Peak harvest is reached in May when the Hastings crop is moving to
Weather, frost, hail, floods and storms.--Potato producers in
Florida face many production risks. Temperature, rainfall, local storms,
insect pests and plant diseases are important factors in the production
of the crop. North Florida growers are limited in planting their early
crops by frost hazards. All sections are subject to light or heavy
frosts during the growing season. Very often early plantings, especially
in the southern part of the state, are damaged by high winds and
driving rains from tropical storms.
The occurrence and destructiveness of potato diseases depends
upon the weather and the nature and condition of the soil in which the
crop is grown. Warm rainy periods tend to increase the prevalence of
most fungus diseases. Weather conditions favorable for development
of some of the most destructive diseases occur every year in some
Variations in yield and production.--Variation from year to year
in rainfall, temperature and light conditions causes a large variation
in yield per acre and, consequently, total production. During the
10 seasons 1949-50 to 1958-59 average yield for all potatoes in the
state varied from 133 hundredweights per acre in 1958-59, to 178
hundredweights in 1953-54. Yield per acre was 122 hundredweights in
the 1959-60 season and 170 hundredweights in the 1960-61 season. Total
production of value in the 1958-59 season on 37,000 acres harvested
was 4,668,000 hundredweights, compared to 5,839,000 hundredweights
on 32,800 harvested acres in 1953-54. Potato production in Florida,
however, is spread over such a wide area that within the same year
weather may have a much greater effect on yield per acre in one area
than in another. Also, one farmer may lose his crop completely
while another farmer in the same or a nearby area may suffer little
or no damage. In the 1957-58 season, the average yields per acre
for the Winter crop and the Spring crop were 96 and 151 hundredweights,
respectively.In the 1958-59 season, yields per acre in the two areas
were 155 and 122 hundredweights, respectively.
Variation in quality.--Quality of potatoes produced varies con-
siderably from year to year. An irregular supply of moisture during
the period of tuber development often contributes to the occurrence of
such troubles as growth cracks, "knobby" tubers and irregular tuber
sizes. Maturity is also affected by the amount of moisture and
Topography of all areas in the state where potatoes are grown
is flat. Moisture control is a problem. Although the level land
lends itself to large fields, necessary drainage ditches and in some
areas water furrows tend to cut up the fields. In the flatwood areas,
the beds are of various widths depending on the drainage required.
In the Hastings area, the most common practice is to have a water
furrow every sixteen rows. The water furrow, connecting with others
like it to an open drainage ditch helps prevent the land from being
flooded by heavy rains. In dry weather these furrows are also used
for running irrigation water into the fields. The water furrows are
kept open and free of weeds during the growing season. The potatoes
are also planted on beds about twelve inches high. Cross drains are
located at the ends of the fields and in the fields where needed,
usually in the low areas. The cross drains have to be opened after
each land preparation or cultivation.
Drainage and Irrigation
Sufficient and well-distributed moisture is necessary for a
healthy steady growing potato plant. Since the natural drainage of
much of the land on which potatoes are grown is poor and there is a
wide variation in the amount of rainfall throughout the growing season,
adequate facilities for draining and irrigating the potato lands are
necessary. In times of excessive rainfall, it is necessary to be able
to take the water off the land before the growing plants are injured.
In dry periods irrigation is needed to add moisture for the proper
growth of the crop. Artesian wells occur in the Hastings area and
also on the West Coast and these serve as sources of water. However,
pumps are normally used to obtain the desired supply of water. In
the Everglades area the desired moisture level is usually obtained
by controlling the level of water in the drainage canals. Potato
lands in Fort Myers area are drained and irrigated by means of tile
In the Hastings area all farmers have facilities both for draining
and irrigating their potato lands. As indicated above, drainage and
irrigation is by the water furrow method. Level, gently sloping land
is a prerequisite for the success of this system. The importance and
value of land leveling for increased potato production has become
increasingly apparent in recent years. Farmers have spent considerable
time and money in leveling their land. Most leveling jobs are done
with a heavy track tractor equipped with a bulldozer blade or a rubber-
tired carry-all scraper machine or pan. The final land leveling is
completed with a land plane or leveler. The cost per acre of leveling
land depends on a number of factors; the principal ones being the
cubic yards of soil moved, the type of equipment used and the skill of
the operator. The estimated cost of leveling fields in the Hastings
area ranges from $50 to $125 per acre. The cost of canals, wells
and equipment for irrigation and drainage averages about $300 per acre.
Credit and Financing
Credit and financing are important problems in commercial
potato production. It was estimated that in the 1957-58 season, 75
to 80 percent of the growers in the Hastings area used credit from
various sources to finance the production of their crop. Growers
who borrowed also obtained an average of over 60 percent of their
total production costs from lenders. About 36 percent of the total
volume of credit was obtained from the Production Credit Association,
10 percent from banks, 5 percent from individuals, 37 percent through
Cooperatives and 12 percent from other sources. Data are not available
on the financing of production in other areas of the state. It is
assumed that the proportion of growers borrowing is similar to that
in the Hastings area; however, the importance of various sources of
credit may differ.
Potato growers in Florida strive to produce a quality product.
Farmers use modern tractor drawn equipment for land preparation,
planting, cultivating and harvesting. Normally two-row equipment is
used for planting and cultivating but some four-row equipment is being
used and the amount is increasing. All producers buy certified seed
each year and generally follow recommended practices for fertilizer
rates, insect and disease control and other practices.
Preparation of land for planting varies in the different areas.
In the Everglades area and Dade county, the land is turned with
breaking plows and disked once or twice before planting begins. In
the Hastings and other flatwood areas, the land is kept in beds through-
out the year. Before the planting season, the beds are turned to take
care of the cover crop on the land. The rows may be turned again
before planting begins. In all areas except Dade County, considerable
time is spent working on ditches and canals necessary for both drainage
Most of the Winter crop acreage is planted with red varieties
and the Spring crop acreage with white varieties. Red Pontiac is
the dominant red variety grown in the state and the Red River Valley
is the principal source of seed supplies. Some producers grow Bliss
Triumph and the LaSoda variety is increasing in importance. Sebago
is the principal white variety and most of the seed come from Prince
Edward Island, Canada.
Planting of the early crop in the Everglades area usually begins
about the middle of September and extends to early October. Planting
around Fort Myers is usually during the last three weeks in October.
Planting in the Immokalee areas is usually a little later than
around Fort Myers. Planting in Dade County usually occurs during
the month of November and in early December. The crop in the Hillsboro-
Manatee area is normally planted in January. Planting in the Hastings
area occurs between the middle of December and the first of February.
Planting in West Florida is in February.
Growers in Dade County usually treat their seed potatoes with
hot solutions of formaldehyde to help control common scab. Planting-
seed are usually not treated in other areas. The seed are cut either
by hand or by machine. Farmers try to plant about a two-ounce seed
piece. Farmers in Dade County plant about 2400 pounds of seed per
acre. Rate of seeding is about 1500 pounds per acre in the Everglades
area, 2000 pounds in the Fort-Myers Immokalee area and 1800 pounds
per acre in the Hastings area. Cost of seed varies from season to
season depending on the price of planting seed. The cost of seed
per acre in the 1960-61 season was $89 in Dade County, $57 in the
Everglades area, $62 in Hastings and $79 in the Fort Myers- Immokalee
Nearly all Florida soils are deficient in the so-called
essential plant foods, namely nitrogen, phosphorus and potash. The
muck soils ordinarily contain a good supply of nitrogen but are de-
ficient in manganese and copper. The marl soils of Dade County tend
to show a marked response to applications of manganese sulfate with
the fertilizer. As a rule all of the mixed fertilizer used on potatoes
is applied before or at planting time.
With the exception of the Everglades area, most potato growers
in Florida tend to use a ton or more of fertilizer per acre. In the
Everglades area, growers use about 1,100 pounds of 0-12-6 per acre.
They also apply about 800 pounds of sulfur. Dade County growers apply
about 2,000 pounds of 4-8-6 per acre. Growers in the Fort Myers-
Immokalee area use about 1,000 pounds of dolomite per acre as land
conditioner. They then apply 2,500 to 3,000 pounds of fertilizer, the
analysis of which may vary from 4-8-8 to 6-10-12. They also use about
60 pounds per acre of Urea or NuGreen as a top dressing. Growers at
Hastings use about 2,500 pounds of fertilizer per acre mostly of
6-8-8, or 7-9-9 analysis. Some growers use foliaf sprays. aa a side
dressing. Fertilizer in the Hastings area normally contains one-
fifth of the nitrogen from nitrate nitrogen, one unit of nitrogen
from natural organic, two units of magnesia and one-half of the potash
from murate and one-half from sulfate. It is also recommended that
new lands or ones previously showing leaf roll be side-dressed with
about 150 pounds of nitrate of soda or its equivalent per acre at
about 40 days after planting.
Fertilizer costs in various areas range from about $35 to $85 per
acre. In the 1960-61 season, the average cost per acre was $38 in the
Everglades area, $49 in Dade County, $63 in Hastings and $88 in the
Fort Myers-Immokalee area.
In all areas potatoes are grown during the relatively cool
season of the year. Unless the temperature is unseasonably warm,
control of weeds and grass is not a big problem. Potatoes are usually
cultivated only two to three times. Many growers are using pre-merge
weed killers such as PNBP which help to control weeds during the grow-
Insect and Disease Control
Control of insect pests and plant diseases are major problems
in the production of potatoes in Florida. All farmers follow an
active control program, applying insecticides and fungicides mainly
in the wet spray form. The majority of farmers use tractor drawn
sprayers but airplane sprayers are also used by a number of growers.
Wireworm is the major insect attacking the tubers. Farmers
normally treat their soil with parathion chlordane or endrin to help
in controlling wireworms. Aphids, cutworms, leaf-footed plant bugs
and serpentine leaf miners are the major insects attacking the plants.
Parathion, thiodan, thimet or endrin.are used in the spray program
in controlling these insects. Late blight is the most destructive of
potato diseases. Weather conditions favorable for its development
consist of eight consecutive days when the average daily temperature
ranges from 50 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit, and a ten-day total rain-
fall of 1.02 inches or more. Potatoes are sprayed with Neban-zinc
sulfate, zineb or maneb for control of late and early blight.
Most farmers in Florida follow a preventive rather than a
disease control program. They also use combination sprays for the
control of both insects and diseases. The number of times potatoes
are sprayed in a season will vary from about 3 to 6 in the Hastings
area, to as many as 20 or more in Dade County. The cost per acre of
spray and dust materials ranges from about $12 in the Hastings area to
$38 in Dade County. These figures do not include cost of labor and
equipment for applying the materials.
In Florida, potatoes are usually harvested before maturity in
order to take advantage of the early market. Growers are concerned
with practices to obtain better maturity and a more uniform size. In
South Florida chemicals are normally used to defoliate the vines
10 to 15 days before digging. This practice tends to promote maturity
and set the skins of the potatoes, thus lessening damage that occurs
at digging and grading. Killing of vines and weeds also tends to
make digging and picking-up easier. Cost of vine killing, including
material and cost of application, varies from $1.75 to $2.75 per acre.
Growers at Hastings have tended to not kill the vines of the Sebago
variety because of the increase in greening to the potatoes due to
exposure to sunlight on the sandy soils. This variety tends to set
the tubers higher up in the row which makes them more subject to
damage from exposure when the vines are removed. Vines are normally
killed on red varieties. The practice is beginning for the Sebago
variety. It is estimated that vines are now being killed on about
10 percent of the acreage.
HARVESTING AND HANDLING POTATOES TO PACKINGHOUSES
Potato harvesting in Florida extends from the last half of
December until June or the early part of July. Within the same area,
time of harvesting varies from year to year, depending on climate
conditions during the growing season. In the same year, time of
harvesting is different in different sections of the same area.
Time of Harvest
Harvestings in the Everglades area normally occurs between
the middle of December and the last of January. Harvesting in the
Fort Myers area comes between the middle of January and the end
of February. Harvesting in the Immokalee area is usually a little
later. In Dade County, most of the crop is harvested between the
middle of February and the middle of April. The crop in the Hillsboro-
Manatee area is harvested in late April and May. The bulk of the
crop in the Hastings area is harvested between the middle of April
and the last of May. The crop in West Florida is harvested in May.
In the Hastings area in the last 10 years, the harvest season
has begun as early as March 27 and as late as April 15. Harvesting
has been completed as early as the third week in May. However, in
unusual circumstances it has extended into early July. Farmers in the
Bunnell and Federal Point sections often complete the peak of their
harvesting before it occurs in the rest of the Hastings area.
In all areas, the grower normally supervises the harvesting of
his crop. He will usually own the equipment used in digging the
potatoes. Picking-up the potatoes and hauling to the packing house
is usually done on a contract basis with crews made up of migratory
Harvesting and Handling Equipment
Systems used for harvesting and handling potatoes may be classified
as (1) the conventional system, (2) the completely mechanized system
and (3) the partially mechanized system. Equipment used in the
conventional system is a roto-beater, a two-row digger and necessary
pickup and field containers. The field box is the predominant field
container in most of the South Florida areas; although many growers
use field bags, The burlap bag is used as the field container in
other areas. In the conventional system, the potatoes are hauled from
the field to the packinghouse on flat-bed trucks. The field containers
are loaded and unloaded manually by hand. In the completely mechanized
system of harvesting, the potatoes are dug with two-row mechanical
harvesters that load potatoes directly into hopper-type bulk bodies
mounted on trucks or trailers. The potatoes are hauled to the packing-
houses in the bulk bodies and are unloaded by means of a conveyor in
the bottom of the body. In the partially mechanized system, the
potatoes are usually dug with a one-or two-row machine that places
them in field bags. The field bags are hauled to the packinghouse
the same as in the conventional method. A roto-beater may or may
not be used with mechanical equipment depending on make of equipment,
type of vine elimination and other factors.
The amount of labor required per acre to harvest potatoes varies
with the system used. In the Hastings area under normal conditions,
to dig, pick-up, and haul the potatoes on an acre that would yield
160 packed hundredweights would require about 35 hours of man labor
with the conventional system, 27 hours with the partially mechanized
system and 10 hours with complete mechanical harvesting. For the
conventional system, man labor requirements for harvesting in the
other areas vary from 35 to 40 hours per acre,
Extent of Mechanization
Although a few homemade harvesters were used previously, commer-
cially built mechanical harvesters were first used in Florida in 1953.
Such equipment has been used mainly in the Fort Myers-Immokalee and
Hastings areas. Mechanical harvesters had been used in Dade County
only on a demonstration basis until the 1961 season. Four mechanical
harvesters are being used in the area in the 1962 season. The great-
est use of mechanical harvesters has been in the Hastings area. In
that area in 1954, about 522 acres of potatoes were dug with one-
row machines. Six direct mechanical harvesters dug less than 900
acres. It is estimated that in 1958 there were 75 one-row machines
and 65 two-row direct mechanical harvesters in the area. The one-
row machines were used to harvest about 3,600 acres and the two-row
machines 6,950 acres, or only slightly less than half of the total
acreage by both methods. In the Hastings area at present about two-
thirds or more of the crop is harvested with mechanical harvesters.
An increased emphasis has been put on machines that place the potatoes
in bags, as this method does not affect the usual way of handling the
potatoes at packinghouses.
Effect on Quality of Different Harvesting Methods
Some of the more important factors that affect the amount of
physical damage to potatoes under any system of harvesting are variety,
maturity, condition of the field at time of harvest, type of equipment,
type of protection on the equipment, care with which the equipment is
operated, and, in the case of complete mechanical harvesting, adequacy
of equipment at packinghouses for receiving potatoes hauled in bulk.
Experience has shown that when mechanical equipment is properly
operated, mechanically harvested potatoes contain no more, and often
less, mechanical damage than potatoes harvested and handled in the
conventional way. However, damage can be high if the equipment is
poorly operated and the facilities at the packinghouse are inadequate
for receiving potatoes hauled in bulk.
Cost of Harvesting and Handling Potatoes to the
The cost of harvesting potatoes and handling them to the
packinghouse varies by areas, by type of field container and also by
system of harvesting. The cost of harvesting should include the cost
of materials, labor and equipment for vine killing and cost of'digging
picking up, checking and hauling the potatoes to the packinghouse.
The farmer normally contracts the cost of picking-up and hauling but
performs the other operations with his own equipment and labor force.
Data obtained for 1954, showed cost of harvesting in the Fort
Myers area to be about 19 cents per 50 pound packed bag equivalent.
In Dade County where field boxes were used, cost of harvesting was
about 17 cents per 50 pound packed bag equivalent. Where field bags
were used, cost of these operations amounted to about 13.4 cents per
bag. In these calculations, the contract rate per field box or bag
was 6 cents for picking up the potatoes and also 6 cents for hauling
to the packinghouse. In the Fort Myers area it was estimated that it
required one field box of potatoes to pack a 50 pound bag. In Dade
County, it was estimated that a field box would pack 1.04 50 pound
bags and a field bag 1.16 50 pound bags.
In the Hastings area in 1954, cost of harvesting and handling
with the conventional method was about 26.1 cents per 100 pound packed
bag. It required 1.71 field bags to pack a 100 pound bag equivalent.
The contract rate per field bag was 6 cents for picking up and 5 cents
for hauling. Cost with partial mechanization was about 24 cents and
22 cents per bag with complete mechanical equipment.
PREPARATION OF POTATOES FOR MARKET
In all areas of Florida potatoes are prepared and packed for
market the same day or within a very few days after they are dug.
They are packed in modern packinghouses with adequate equipment for
doing a quality job. The packinghouses are owned either by an
individual grower or growers, cooperative associations or by private
individuals who pack on a custom basis. In each area the number of
packinghouses are adequate to pack the volume of potatoes being
produced. Historically, the packinghouses have been located adjacent
to railroad sidings. For such houses growers may have to haul their
potatoes a number of miles from the field to the packinghouse. With
the increase in volume of potatoes moved by truck, more packinghouses
have been located either on the farm or adjacent to the area where
the potatoes are grown. In the Hastings area within the last few
years, many new packinghouses have been built on farms in the
Number of Packinghouses
In South Florida, most of the packinghouses are individually or
jointly owned but a few are owned by cooperative associations. At the
present time there are about 7 packinghouses that operate in the Fort
Myers-Immokalee area and 13 packinghouses in Dade County. In the Hastings
area, the number of packinghouses about doubled from 1953 to 1958 re-
flecting the trend toward increased use of mechanical harvesters and
a greater movement of potatoes by trucks. In 1958 about 57 individuals
or firms operated 66 packinghouses in the area. About 10 percent of
the plants operated two lines of equipment under the same shed. As
a rule under normal conditions a line of equipment has a capacity of
about 300 to 350 hundredweights of Size A potatoes per hour, Of
the 66 plants, 20 are located in or near Hastings, 20 in the Elkton-
Tocoi section, 11 in or near East Paltka, 10 in or near Bunnell, 4 in
the Mill Creek section and 1 in the Federal Point section. About one-
third of the plants, other than those owned by cooperatives, are
jointly owned by two or more growers. About two-thirds of the packing-
houses are equipped to handle potatoes received from the field in bulk.
Storage at Packinghouse
When potatoes are hauled from the field they may be graded
directly from the field truck or they may be placed in temporary storage
to be graded later. In South Florida the potatoes are usually stored
in field containers--boxes or bags. In the Hastings area storage may
be in field bags but many of the houses are equipped with temporary
storage bins. The bins are filled by dumping the field bags in them.
If the potatoes from the bulk trucks are placed in storage, they are
elevated into the bins by means of a conveyor. In South Florida potatoes
may be placed in temporary storage to let them dry and also to set the
skins, to enable a better job of washing and grading. Potatoes may be
stored 24 to 72 hours before grading, depending on their condition. In
the Hastings area, many of the packinghouses pack potatoes for a number
of growers. Potatoes are placed in storage in order to accumulate
enough from a grower to pack at least a car or a truckload at a time.
In areas where potatoes with white skins are grown, they are usually
graded and packed the same day they are dug.
Sizing, Washing, Drying and Grading Potatoes
In the grading process, potatoes are usually separated into three
or four size groups by means of mechanical sizers. These are "peewees",
creamers, size B, and size A. The small potatoes are removed immediately
before or after washing. Size B potatoes are usually taken out immediately
ahead of the main grading operation or, infrequently, immediately after
the main grading operation. Potatoes not passing through various siz-
ing chains are classed as size A.
Potatoes in all areas of Florida are washed before they are graded
and packed for market. A spray type washer equipped with roller brushes
and a section for drip drying or absorbent rollers, is the usual equip-
ment used. Many of the packinghouses are also equipped with mechanical
driers for drying the potatoes after they are washed. The majority of
the packinghouses in South Florida are equipped with driers. In the
Hastings area the packinghouses are divided about 50-50 with and with-
Most of the packinghouses in South Florida contain equipment for
coloring and waxing potatoes. Colored wax is applied only to potatoes
with red skins Potatoes are waxed on the order of the buyer. A large
share of the potatoes grown in Dade County are waxed and colored.
The grading operation is an important segment of the potato pack-
inghouse operation. Hand sorting is used to remove unsalable potatoes
and those defective to the extent they are placed in lower grades. The
efficiency of the grading operation is affected by the quality of
potatoes received from the field and the type of grading job the
management decides to do. The packinghouse operator supervises the
grading. In most cases, managers try to grade so the potatoes will
meet minimum U. S. grade standards. The strictness of grading de-
pends partly on the requirements of the buyer.
In grading potatoes, most houses use a standard method of one
main grading table for size A potatoes, one small table for size B
potatoes and another small table for regrading those picked out of the
size A potatoes at the main grading table. As the size A potatoes
move over the main grading table, pickers remove those with defects
and place them on a conveyor that takes them to a smaller table where
they are regraded to remove culls and other potatoes as desired.
In some houses, pickers may separate the poorer culls from the
salable potatoes at the main grading table by placing the culls on
a separate belt or in boxes or other containers and the other potatoes
on another conveyor. The potatoes regraded make various official
and unofficial inferior grades (U. S. No. 2,commercials, utilities
and culls) depending on how they are regraded to remove the various
defects. In most packinghouses, the number of graders at the main
grading tables ranges from 6 to 10. The number regrading pick-outs
ranges from one to three. Grading tables in all houses are adequately
lighted so that defects may be easily seen.
Containers and Type of Pack
Potatoes are packed in 10 and 50 pound paper bags or in 50
and 100 pound burlap bags. Most of the number one grades of potatoes
from South Florida are packed in 50 pound paper bags but some packers
use burlap. Houses using burlap usually are not equipped to dry
potatoes with hot air after washing. The lower grades of potatoes
are usually packed in 50 pound burlap bags. Potatoes from South
Florida usually are not packed in 100 pound bags unless they are of
a very low grade or are packed for sale to potato chippers. The
50 and 100 pound burlap bag is used almost exclusively in North
Florida for bagging potatoes except for a few that are packed in
10 pound consumer bags. Usually, size A potatoes are the ones packed
in 50 pound bags but some size B and utilities are also packed in
50 pound bags. The proportion of the crop packed in 50 pound bags
varies by season depending on the price and quality of the potatoes
but is showing no particular tendency to increase. In all cases,
potatoes are packed in new bags except for a few used bags for potatoes
going directly to processors.
Although there has been a considerable interest in Florida for a
number of years in packing potatoes in consumer-size bags, the number
of bags packed in any one season has been none or very small--probably
not exceeding 500,000 bags or 50,000 hundredweights until the 1960-
61 season. In the Hastings area in 1960-61 about 175,000 hundredweights
of potatoes were packed in 10 pound bags. Increased emphasis is
expected to be placed on packing 10 pound bags in the 1962 season.
Up to the present time, very few consumer size bags have been packed
in South Florida. Two packinghouses in Dade County are packing some
consumer bags, mostly 5 pounds, in the 1962 season. Equipment is also
available for packing some small bags in a few'houses in other areas.
Packinghouse laborers are usually migratory workers. They may
be hired by the owner or the operator of the house on an hourly basis
or the house may be operated on a contract basis. When the house is
operated on a contract basis, the contractor furnishes the labor ,and
charges so much per unit for the grading and packing. Most of the
heavy manual labor is done by Negro men. Women are normally used in
the grading operations. In Dade County and around Fort Myers, many
of the packinghouses use white women, especially at the main.grading
table. A number of white men may also be employed in the packing
operation. In the rest of the packinghouses in the state, Negro
help is used almost exclusively except for checkers and supervisory
labor. The supply of packinghouse workers is usually adequate. It is
trained in that it follows the harvest season from one area to another.
However, like any common labor, it takes constant supervision to see
that a reasonably satisfactory job of grading and packing is done and
the potatoes are handled so as to not cause a lot of physical injury
in the handling process. Like any migratory group of workers, the
turnover in the labor crew is high unless the labor is being supplied
by a contractor. The amount of mechanization in packinghouses is small.
Some houses use a conveyor system in moving the packed size A potatoes
from the packing equipment to the load. This system is found most often
in houses that load all of their potatoes into trucks.
Cost of Packinghouse Operations
A study of potato packinghouse operations in Florida in 1956,
showed the cost of packing 50 pound bags in South Florida to be about
26 cents. This was divided about 10.2 cents for material costs,
8.3 for labor costs and 7.5 cents for other costs. In the Hastings
area, the average total cost per hundredweight for packing potatoes
was about 36.4 cents for 100 pound bags and 45.7 cents for 50 pound
bags. In the case of 100 pound bags, material costs amounted to 15.8
cents, labor 12 cents and other costs 8.6 cents. For 50 pound bags,
material costs averaged 22.3 cents, labor costs 14.3 cents and other
costs 9.1 cents. In each area, the cost of packing the lower grade
potatoes was more than for size A because of a higher labor cost due
to a lower output per worker.
For the 1960-61 season, the overall cost to growers of.
operations for grading, packing and preparing potatoes for market
including containers on a per 100 pound basis was 78 cents in Dade
County, 67 cents in the Fort Myers-Immokalee area, 73 cents in the
Everglades area and 43 cents in the Hastings area.
MARKETING OF POTATOES
All potatoes in Florida area marketed as "new crop" potatoes. As
a rule they are loaded in railroad cars or trucks to be shipped to
market as they are packed. Seldom are potatoes that have been washed
and graded held at the packinghouse more than 24 hours before they are
Movement of Potatoes and Competition
The first new crop of potatoes begin to move to market from Florida
in late December and early January. During the early part of the season,
new crop volume is small. The amount of stored crop potatoes moving into
the market is an important factor in the demand for new crop potatoes.
The volume of stored crop potatoes normally ranges from 4,500 to 6,000
cars per week from early January to the middle of April each year. There-
after, stored crop movement declines rapidly each week and is usually
completed by the end of June or early July.
Florida is almost the sole producer of new crop potatoes from
December through late April. Volume is light in December and January
but increases with the Dade County harvesting in February, March and
early April. Florida volume normally does not reach 500 cars per week
until the latter part of Marth; 1,000 cars per week normally is not
reached until the second or third week in April. Peak movement is
about the second week in May. After the fourth week in May, Florida
shipments decline rapidly. The most rapid increase in shipment from
the state occurs when the harvest begins in the Hastings area. This
also marks the beginning of movement in volume of white potatoes
from the state.
The movement of new crop potatoes from states other than Florida
does not begin in volume until the second or third week in April when
harvesting starts in Alabama and California. Volume from other new
crop states is about equal to the Florida volume by the end of April.
Volume from other new crop states increases rapidly in May.
Although potatoes are shipped from Peninsular Florida from December
to June, nearly 80 percent of the crop moves in March, April and May.
The two peak months are April and May when the crop is moving in volume
from the Hastings area. The first movement of potatoes is usually from
the Lake Okeechobee section followed by shipments from the Fort Myers-
Immokalee area. Shipments from Dade County begin in February and
continue until early April. About one-half of the total volume shipped
in February and over two-thirds in March is from Dade County. During
April, about three-fifths of the shipments are from the Hastings
area, one-fourth from Dade County, 8 percent from other South Florida
counties, and 2 percent from other North Florida counties. During
May and June, 85 to 90 percent of the shipments are from the Hastings
area and 5 to 10 percent from other North Florida counties. Of the
total shipments from Peninsular Florida for the five seasons 1956-
57 to 1960-61, 64 percent originated in the Hastings area, 17 percent
in Dade County, 15 percent in other South Florida counties and 4 per-
cent in other North Florida counties.
Quality of the Crop
The quality of the crop is subject to a rather wide variation
from season to season due to variation in weather conditions and
difficulties of insect and disease control. The usual size classi-
fications for sales purposes are size A and B that conform to official
U, S. Grade Standards. In addition, there are small potatoes classified
A study was made of potato packinghouse operations in 1956 in
10 houses in South Florida and 10 houses in the Hastings area. Data
obtained in this study showed that in each area in 1956, approximately
83 percent was U. S. No. 1--size A, 6 percent U. S. No. 1--size B and
11 percent U. S. No. 2--size A or utilities. In each case, the size
groups above included the potatoes that met grade standards and also
the percentage grades, therefore the percentages are not quite com-
parable to the figures given below for the Hastings area for 1957 and
1958. Information from the records of 7 selling agencies (whose
combined volume was over 50 percent of total area sales) indicated
that in 1957 about 70 percent of the total sales were U. S. No. 1
size A, 10 percent percentage No. 1--size A, 13 percent utilities, 5
percent U. S. No. 1--size B and 2 percent creamers. The proportion
of total sales in various quality groups in 1958 was 65 percent U. S.
No. l--size A, 20 percent percentage No. 1--size A, 5 percent utilities,
6 percent U. S. No. 1--size B and 4 percent creamers. The quality of
the crop in 1958 was greatly affected by lower than normal temperatures
during the growing season.
Federal state inspection service is available in all areas. It
is estimated that about 85 percent of the crop in South Florida is
inspected and about 70 percent in the Hastings area.
Transportation and Distribution
Potatoes are transported to market by rail and by truck. During
the middle fifties, the importance of trucks in the movement of potatoes
increased significantly. In the 1956-57 season, 79 percent of the
total volume of potatoes marketed was moved by truck. The granting
of permission to the railroads in the 1958-59 season that allowed
a heavier car loading and thus a reduction in cost of shipping by rail
reversed the trend and increased the importance of rail shipments. In
the 1960-61 season, 53 percent of the potatoes marketed moved by rail.
Truck movement from the Hastings area is more important than from Dade
County. Shipments into markets in the Southeast are mostly by truck.
Potatoes from Florida are distributed over a wide area. The crop
from South Florida has a wider distribution than that from North Florida.
At the time most of the harvest is taking place in South Florida, no
potatoes are being harvested in other sections of the United States.
The most important market for the South Florida potatoes is in the area
of Chicago and vicinity and in markets in the Southeast. About one-
sixth of the crop from South Florida is marketed west of the Mississippi
river, some shipments going all the way to the West Coast.
Very few potatoes from North Florida are marketed much west of
Chicago. A number of potatoes move to this area to be used in making
potato chips. More potatoes from Hastings go to Northeast markets
than any one area. Shipments to markets in the Southeast also are
important. Based on U. S. D. A. data for 1960 on unloads of Florida
potatoes in 37 cities, 29 percent were in markets in Northeast United
States, 29 percent in Southeastern markets, 37 percent in markets
in the vicinity of Chicago and 5 percent in markets in the Western
part of the United States.
Sales Organization and Methods of Sale
There are three major classes of sellers involved in marketing
potatoes in Florida. They may be identified as (1) individual
growers whose sales are limited to all or a part ot their own crop,
(2) grower cooperatives which market potatoes for their members
and (3) other sellers which include private agencies and brokers.
In general, sales of potatoes in all sections of Florida
are made on a F.O.B. shipping point basis. A few growers sell
mainly by consignment. This is the exception rather than the
rule. Quite often these growers have family or business connections
in the terminal markets.
Other than for the Hastings area, data are not available on the
proportion of sales by various classes of sellers. In the Hastings
area it is estimated that in 1954, 29 percent of the total sales
were made by individual growers, 38 percent by grower cooperatives
and 33 percent by other sellers. In 1958, the percentages were 29,
33 and 38 percent, respectively, for the three groups.
Although there was a slight decline from 1954 to 1958 in the
proportion of total sales accounted for by individuals, the number
of growers engaged in selling about doubled. In 1954, there were
22 growers selling all of their potatoes and 10 growers selling a
part of their potatoes. By 1958, 27 growers were selling all of
their potatoes and 22 were handling a part of their sales.
Contract growing of potatoes for processing outlets has been
responsible for most of the increase in the number of growers
selling part or all of their crops. For the Hastings area, it is e
estimated that in 1955 there were 8 growers with a total contract
volume of 55,000 hundredweights. This compared to 65 growers in 1958
with a contract volume of 384,370 hundredweights.
Information is not available on the extent to which number of
other sellers has increased in the Hastings area in recent years.
However, the proportion of the total sales handled by this group
has increased in contrast to a decrease in the proportion handled
by each of the two other classes of sellers.
When a grower sells his potatoes through a cooperative association
or a broker he usually pays a fee for the services. The average cost
of selling per 100 pounds in the 1960-61 season was 20 cents in Dade
County, 17 cents in the Everglades area, 16 cents at Hastings and
21 cents in the Fort Myers-Immokalee area. The average rate in the
Hastings area was lower than in the other areas because more of the
growers sold their own potatoes.
Outlets may be discussed in terms of utilization of potatoes
for fresh and processed products, in terms of the importance of
these outlets by type of seller, or in terms of the proportion of
the crop handled by various type of buyers such as chain stores,
wholesale receivers, brokers, etc.
The majority of the potatoes produced in South Florida are
varieties with red skins. These potatoes are normally sold to the fresh
market except for the creamers or C size, most of which are sold to
canners. Data are not available on method and type of sale. Practically
all growers sell through brokers.
A recent study gives some information on market outlets for
potatoes in the Hastings area. The most important change in the
utilization of potatoes in recent years has been the rapid growth of
the processing market. High quality Sebago potatoes are very desirable
for chipping purposes. This has been reflected in the demand for
white potatoes produced in Florida in recent years. In the Hastings
area at the present time, over 50 percent of the total production of
U. S. No. l--size A and percentage No. 1--size A potatoes are sold for
chipping purposes. About 60 percent of the total current production
goes into processed products of one form or another. This is in contrast
to the situation in the early 1950's when most of the crop was sold to
fresh market outlets. The growth of the processing market has resulted
in a rapid increase in contract growing for processors which will
be discussed in more detail later.
From the standpoint of the type of seller, the proportion of
total sales by individual growers going into processed products
(largely potato chips) is estimated at 62, 58, and 69 percent in
1954, 1957 and 1958, respectively. Sales to fresh market outlets
by individual growers are largely limited to a few of the large
volume producers. Of the sales by grower cooperatives, 49 and 53
percent in 1957 and 1958, respectively, went into processed products.
It is also estimated that in 1958, 65 percent of the total volume of
potatoes sold by other sellers went into processed products.
The relative importance of different types of buyers or outlets
varies with the quality and size of crop. An average of the records
for 1957 and 1958 of seven selling agencies in the Hastings area
showed that about 18 percent of their total sales went direct to
retailers, 30 percent direct to processors, 25 percent to wholesale
receivers, 22 percent to local buyer brokers and 5 percent to other
buyers. These data indicate that approximately one-half of the
volume is moved by direct sales and one-half through indirect channels.
Disposition of Off-Grades
Florida does not have any starch, flour or alcohol plants for
disposal of off-grade potatoes. Most of the creamer size potatoes
are sold to canning plants. Potatoes graded out as culls are dumped.
The harvest season in any area in Florida does not last over 60 days.
The amount of culls available and the length of time a plant could
operate would make the operation of by-products plants uneconomical.
Prices of Potatoes
Prices received for potatoes by Florida farmers depend upon:
(1) the season of the year in which the potatoes are sold, (2) the
volume of stored potatoes, (3) the size of the Florida crop and
(4) the general price level.
The normal pattern for Florida potato prices is a rise from
December to January and then a decline during the remainder of the
season. As a rule, prices in January average 15 to 30 percent
above the annual average price. In the 10-year period 1952-61,
the January average price per hundredweight was $3.82, February
$3.52, March $3.32, April $3,65, May $2.91 and June $2.67. The
increase in average price in April over March was due primarily to
high prices resulting from the freeze in late March 1955 and the
short crop in the Hastings area in 1960.
The amount/of spread between January and June prices has
increased each decade since 1930. During the decade 1920-29, the drop
in price from January to June was $0.90 per hundredweight,,$0.83 in the
decade 1930-39, $1.01 in the decade 1940-49 and $1.20 in the period
From year to year, there tends to be an inverse relation between
production of potatoes in Florida and prices received by farmers. If
production increases, prices decline and if production decreases,
prices increase. Since 1941 there has been a decided upward trend
in the production of potatoes. Although prices have fluctuated
considerably since the 1944-45 season, a slight downward trend is
in evidence. The price of $1.97 per hundredweight received for the
1956-57 crop by Florida farmers was the lowest season average price
since the 1940-41 season.
In only three seasons since 1946, has the average price received
for potatoes in Florida been higher than the Florida parity equivalent.
In three other seasons, average prices received have been equivalent
to .93 and 99 percent of parity. In four of the five seasons 1949-50
to 1953-54, the price received for potatoes in Florida averaged 70
to 74 percent of the state parity price equivalent. It was during
this period andagain in the 1956-57 and 1957-58 seasons when average
prices were 51 and 75 percent, respectively, of the Florida parity
price equivalent that farmers became seriously concerned about prices
received for potatoes. However, it should be noted that the average
production for the period 1949-50 to 1953-54 was 70 percent more
than production for the preceding five seasons. Part of the decline
in price, no doubt, is due to the fact Florida has become a more
competitive factor in the potato market.
Prices not only vary from year-to-year and between areas in
the same year, there are also considerable price differentials
between size and grade of potatoes in the same area within and
between seasons. In South Florida, size B potatoes normally sell
for as much as size A potatoes and in some seasons they sell for more
than size A potatoes. The U.S. No. 2 grade is priced roughly 50 per-
cent lower than U.S. No. 1 grade. A combination grade, 80 to 85 per-
cent U.S. No. 1, is priced 30 to 40 cents a 50 pound bag less than
the No. 1 grade.
Based on market news report data, the F.O.B. shipping point
price at Hastings of 100 pound bags of U.S. No. 1 Sebago potatoes
size A, exceeded the price of 100 pound bags of size B potatoes by
an average of $0.95 and 1957 and $1.89 in 1958. The range in
price differences during the two seasons was $0.58 to $1.27 in 1957
and $0.90 to $3.00 in 1958. In the 1960-61 season, size A potatoes
were priced $0.75 to $1.00 per 100 pounds more than size B potatoes.
Normally in the Hastings area, a percentage U.S. No. 1 grade 85
percent or better is priced $0.25 to $0.50 lower than U. S. No. 1
grade. The price of the utility grade unclassified normally sells
for about 60 percent of the price of the U. S. No. 1 grade.
GROWING POTATOES UNDER CONTRACT
As indicated earlier, a major change in the marketing of potatoes
in the Hastings area has been the increase in volume of potatoes
going to processors. In the 1957-58 season, about 60 percent of the
total production was ultimately bought by processors for use in making
potato chips and other processed products. In order to insure supplies
and also eliminate some of the'sid6 fluctuations in price of potatoes
from year to year, various segments of the potato industry, especially
processors, have been contracting with growers for stated amounts of
potatoes. Contracts have normally been for a stated number of bags of
potatoes rather than the entire production of a grower; usually
varying from 10 to 30 percent of the expected production.
The amount of contracting has increased rapidly in the Hastings
area. It is estimated that in 1955 there were eight growers with
a total contract volume of 55,000 hundredweight. In 1958, there
were 65 growers with a contract volume of 384,370 hundredweight.
This amount was about 20 percent of the total volume sold to processors
In most cases, contracts are made directly with producers. In
some cases, they have been entered into between a cooperative
association or an individual and a processor. Subcontracts were
then made between the cooperative association and its members or,
in the case of individual growers, with other growers to help supply
the potatoes needed. Contracts are usually made before the potatoes
are planted but they may be made any time before harvest.
Contracts vary as to features relating to quality, price, etc.
A survey of 95 growers in the Hastings area in 1958 included 23
growers who had contracted all or part of their 1957-58 crop. About
four-fifths of the contracts specified that the quality of potatoes
acceptable for delivery must be of U.S. No. 1 or 1-A grade. Only
one-fifth of the contracts specified a percentage grade. About 80
percent of the contracts specified a price on a sliding scale giving
a minimum and maximum price, stating that the contract price would
be the market price if the market price was in between the minimum
and maximum price. About half of the contracts had a price range
from $2.50 to $3.50 per 100 pound packed bag. One-fourth of the
contracts specified a price range of $2.50 to $3.25 per hundredweight.
In about 60 percent of the contracts, Federal-State inspection of the
potatoes was required. About three-fourths of the contracts specified
that the potatoes would be packed in new bags. All but one contract
indicated that the bags would be furnished by the grower.
Like any other new innovation, the place of contracting in the
Florida potato industry has not been fully determined. Neither have
all of the features that will be most desirable from the standpoint
of the producer and the processor. About three-fifths of the growers
interviewed in 1958 thought the amount of contracting in the area
would increase. About one-fifth thought the amount of contracting
would decrease. Those growers who thought contracting would increase
were of that opinion mainly because of two reasons: (1) contracting
aided in getting :th crop financed and (2) it assured the grower an
outlet for a part of his crop. The features of the contract being
offered growers will be adjusted as the situation indicates. In the
long run, the contracts developed should be those that work out to the
mutual benefit of both producers and processors.
The potato industry of Florida has undergone many changes in
the last 15 years. Better varieties, higher rates of fertilization
and improved production practices have increased per acre yields
more than 40 percent. This coupled with a substantial increase in
acreage has resulted in an annual production that has more than
doubled. The acres of potatoes grown by individual growers have
increased. There has also been an increase in the use of equipment
in the production of potatoes, especially in the harvesting and hand-
ling in the Fort Myers-Immokalee and Hastings areas.
Both growers and packers strive to provide a quality product
for the market. Growers follow recommended production practices. The
potatoes are packed in modern packinghouses with adequate equipment
for doing a quality job. All potatoes are washed before they are
graded and packed. Most of the crop is inspected before it moves
For white potatoes grown in the state, there has been a vast
change in market outlets. At the present time, more than half of the
white potatoes are sold to processors for making potato chips and
other processed products. Some processors have begun to grow some of
their own supplies of potatoes in the state. Processors have also
begun to contract with individual producers to produce a part of their
The industry is faced with a constantly changing situation.
It attempts to adjust to these as they arise. As a responsible
potato industry, it attempts to work out arrangements whereby the
public interest and that of potato growers may be better served.
Publications Submitted as Evidence
1. Florida Truck Crop Competition Mimeograph Publication -
Department of Agricultural Economics, by Donald L. Brooke,
Agricultural Economics Mimeo. Reports 61-3, October 1960
and 62-6, October 1961.
2. Statistics on Production, Shipments and Prices of Florida
Irish Potatoes, by Donald L. Brooke and R. E. L. Greene,
Agricultural Economics Mimeo, Report 62-13, April 1962.
3. Packing Costs and Grading Efficiency in Florida and Alabama
Potato Packinghouses, by George L. Capel, R. E. L. Greene
and L. J. Kushman, Agricultural Economics Mimeo. Report
59-7, October 1958.
4. Costs and Returns from Vegetable Crops in Florida in Season
1956-57 with Comparative Data, by Donald L. Brooke, Agri-
cultural Economics Mimeo. Report 58-8, March 1958.
5. Costs and Returns from Vegetable Crops in Florida Season
1960-61, by Donald L. Brooke, Agricultural Economics
Mimeo. Report 62-9, February 1962.
6. Florida Vegetable Crops Annual Statistical Summary, 1960
Volume XVI, by G. N. Rose, G. G. Goshorm, R. R. Hancock,
and J. C. Townsend, Jr., Florida Crop and Livestock Re-
porting Service, Orlando, Florida
7. Equipment for Mechanical Harvesting of Potatoes in the
Southeast, by J. S. Norton, R. E. L. Greene, and L. J.
Kushman, Fla. Ag. Exp. Sta. Bul. 579, November 1956.
8. An Analysis of Quality and Cost of Harvesting and Handling
Potatoes with Mechanical Equipment, by R. E. L. Greene,
L. J. Kushman and H. C. Spurlock, Fla. Ag. Exp. Sta. Bul.
612, October 1959.
Agr. Exp. Sta., Ag. Ec. -- 230