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Creamers proving to be more than small potatoes

By DOROTHY NOBLE
AFP Correspondent

HERSHEY, Pa. (March 21, 2017) — Robert Leiby, Pennsylvania Co-Operative Potato Growers, Inc., updated an audience on his observations of the industry at a potato session during the recent Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Convention.
Leiby noted, “While sales of fresh market potatoes have declined over the past few years, one category has seen an uptick in sales: Creamers.”
These potatoes range from 3/4-inch to  1-5/8 inches in diameter.
Roadside operators say these tiny tubers are popular and command a premium price.
When marketed in small packages or quart boxes, chefs and individuals looking for attractive plate presentation are demanding these creamers.
In addition, very small reds, yellows, blues, fingerlings, small russets and even round whites are marketed in this category.
However, growing and harvesting these creamers typically require hand labor or specialized harvesting equipment.
Leiby reported that small farms that use potato diggers or lifters may find that creamers can be a good source of extra income.
In 2014, a non-replicated creamer trial produced over 100 cwt. per acre in raised beds.
Leiby added that an expanded trial in 2015 produced close to 200 cwt. per acre.
Creamers and specialty potatoes, Leiby cautioned, need bright, smooth skin with very little defects. This market demands nearly perfect appearance.
Reds, for example, must be bright and without dull gray silver scurf or rhizoctonia.
In addition, Leiby said creamers require different production practices. Reduce spacing to 5 or 6 inches between seed pieces, and reduce nitrogen.
Kill the tops of the plants while actively growing in the early phase of tuber bulking.
Growers have found that for high yield and quality, vine killing has only a 2 or 3 day time window.
Finally, be sure to select varieties which set high numbers of tubers.
David Masser, president of Sterman Masser Potato Farms, also addressed the potato session at the Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Convention.
Masser pointed out that potatoes have the attention of many ‘foodies.’ He explained that potatoes are versatile, nutritious and a value meal choice, and that the potato category in produce sections is rapidly changing.
Consumer preferences now influencing the potato market include red skinned varieties, russets, creamer size and convenience packaging for no-hassle preparation. New consumer products, in eye-catching packaging designs, feature the small sized steamables, flavorables and roastables. Their branding generates new customers, Masser noted. 
Consumer research indicates that 61 percent of retail customers shop for their immediate needs, Masser reported.
The trends include smaller packaging. Also, food service leads these changes by introducing creative seasonings and preparation methods.
Masser suggested that potato growers will need to continually invest in research for seed selections that meet evolving consumer preferences and grow well.
Speaking at the recent Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture’s Farming for the Future Conference in State College, Pa., Nancy Jury said that Sterman Masser is looking for more potato growers. Jury is Sterman Masser, Inc.’s director of food safety.