This section is from the book "The Potato: A Compilation of Information from Every Available Source", by Eugene H. Grubb, W. S. Guilford. Also available from Amazon: The Potato: A Compilation Of Information From Every Available Source.
J. G. Milward of the Horticultural Department of the University of Wisconsin is doing a great work for the potato growers of that state. In a circular issued by him in May, 1911, he says:
The growing of miscellaneous types not adapted to competition on the leading markets, causes difficulty in sorting and grading at the loading stations. Growers in several sections have responded to a plan to establish community centres where uniform car lots of one variety can be handled. An important step toward the development of this plan will be to secure the best seed raised in the state in car lots, and reserve it for Wisconsin planting. The Agricultural Experiment Station through its Agricultural Extension Service has secured hearty endorsement, from growers, commission men, buyers, of a practical plan to disseminate the best seed raised in Wisconsin on the basis of a community centre plan. If the majority of growers in these centres select one standard variety adapted to their soil conditions the following advantages will be gained:
1. Reputation on the market as a variety centre;
2. Possiblity of handling straight, uniform car lots; 3. Easier disposal of stock during periods of depressed prices; and 4. Better prices under close competition.
Many sections in northern Wisconsin have become important commerical potato centres. Northern fields under the direction of this Station are being planted largely to the standard varieties: Rural New Yorker, Burbank, Peerless, Early Rose, Early Ohio and Triumph. Market stock of a high standard can be produced on the good potato soils in this section. Coarse, undesirable types are being planted too often on land which will produce standard stock of high grade. This Station has been in touch with the leading commission houses of the West, and all these firms complain of the mixtures and substitutions of type in Wisconsin shipments. In addition they emphasize the need of closer attention to sorting and grading.
During the past ten years Wisconsin has ranged from third to fifth in the rank of states in potato production. Available records show that there are thousands of acres of developed and undeveloped potato soils in this state adapted to produce stock of as high quality as any of the other famous potato centres of the country. Notwithstanding these possibilities for development there has been a falling off in many sections in the standard of both seed and commercial table stock. This circular is designed to urge improvement in uniformity and quality of car shipments. In accordance with this need this Station does not assist in the dissemination of any but recognized standard market types. In some of the northern counties the Burbank, Rural New Yorker or Triumph predominate. In relation to market conditions these sections have recognized the advantage of a community industry. The potato industry in this state will be benefited by the elimination of coarse imitative types, novelties and local varieties and a return to straight car lots of the standard varieties, notably Burbank, Rural New Yorker, Peerless, Early Rose, Early Ohio and Triumph."
It is possible that many do not realize the scope of the potato business in a single market. The following interviews with the senior author in the Chicago Tribune in December 1910, is very interesting:
Chicago as a market is next to New York in the number of bushels of potatoes consumed and distributed. A vast area, comprising among others, the states of Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota North and South Dakota, Colorado, and Idaho, ships its product to Chicago to be marketed.
About 24,000 cars of potatoes are handled in Chicago annually, making an average of a little more than sixty cars daily. Many of these potatoes are consumed within the city and the rest supplies vast territories where the growing of the vegetable is practically unknown.
As in all products of the farm, the crop and cost of potatoes is dependent largely upon the season. This year the price of potatoes has been high, due to the drought, and the market is just beginning to assume a normal tone. The market price determines to a great extent whether or not potatoes grown in states near Chicago will be shipped here for marketing. When the Chicago price is not sufficient to allow a fair return for the product and the New York price is higher, the shipper does not hesitate to send his potatoes to New York. And the same is true of potatoes grown in the East.
But the United States nowhere near equals foreign countries in the growing of potatoes. There are three or four times as many potatoes grown per acre in Europe as in this country. Regular shipments of European potatoes arrive in New York and occasionally reach the Chicago market. In 1908, when there was a shortage of potatoes throughout the country and the prices were high, a large proportion of potatoes sold in the Chicago and Missouri River markets were grown in Europe. Potatoes ordinarily are cheaper in October than any other month. October is the month for harvesting the great crops from the Northern States, although it is true that new potatoes begin to arrive as early as September 1st. It is, however, possible to secure new potatoes in Chicago the year round. Bermuda furnishes potatoes in January and February. Florida furnishes them a little later. Potatoes in the spring come from Texas, and following northward, the market is supplied with a certain number of new potatoes in all seasons, but those which come from the Bermudas and Texas command fancy prices and go only on the tables of the wealthy or of the high-class restaurants.
People of the laboring class eat more potatoes than those in other walks of life, and potatoes are valued especially by them because of the nutriment they supply, and their cheapness as compared with other food.
Fifty cents a bushel is a fair price for the large commission men who handle large quantities of potatoes to pay, but by the time they pass through the hands of the jobber and the retailer a bushel of potatoes for which the commission man paid only 50 cents arrives on the table of the ultimate consumer at a cost of 80 or 85 cents or more a bushel."
Potato dealers are not unlike all others on a city market. There are many tricks in the seed trade. It is so hard for the amateur or the old practical dealer or grower to tell the difference in varieties, and there are so many so similar that a buyer can almost always be accommodated, no matter what stock is on hand. Instances are common where a half dozen different varieties have been supplied to as many different customers from a single shipment of a single variety. In the early spring it is common to see small old potatoes washed and sold for new potatoes at fancy prices.
It is probably true that the American or European potato grower will find his greatest future market in the increase in population at home, yet there are sections both in the Arctic and Tropical zones, where the Irish potato does not grow, that can be exploited for special long keeping and generally heavy skinned varieties at high prices. Some of these are Alaska, Gulf States, Old Mexico, Panama, Orient, and Philippines. There seems to be a good future in the preparation of dried or desiccated potatoes for this trade.
The potato market is very uncertain, the grower reaping a handsome profit one year, a loss the next.
No one seems to be able to forecast or guess the future - even one season ahead. The " intermittent" potato grower may make big money or go broke, but the one who grows a stated acreage every year for ten years makes a nice average annual profit.
As is true of all crops that make food for the human race, the ultimate future of the potato crop for the intelligent grower is certainly very bright. No market is so panicky and so subject to rise and fall in price. This is true in both Europe and America. This is one of the phases of the business that should make the grower alert and watchful of crop and market conditions. It requires more than ordinary judgment to know when to hold or sell.
There are several ways of loading potato cars for shipment in cold weather to prevent freezing. At Carbondale a foot of straw is put on the bottom of the refrigerator car and a foot around the sides as the potatoes in bags are laid in tiers. After the car is fully loaded, oil stoves are put in, the temperature raised to 80 degrees, the stoves removed and the cars tightly sealed. This generally insures the car going through in good shape.
In Maine, a false bottom and false sides are made in the refrigerator car, leaving a two-inch air space all around. This frame is covered with building paper. The air space serves the same purpose as the straw. About 300 sacks of a little over 100 pounds each - or about 30,000 pounds is the weight usually loaded per car, although double this tonnage is sometimes loaded.