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Pleasant Valley ends agreement with L&M, brings sales and marketing in house

by Rand Green | October 07, 2010
After a four-year marketing affiliation with L&M Cos. Inc., Pleasant Valley Potato Inc. in Aberdeen, ID, has again brought the company's sales and marketing activities in house.

"Pleasant Valley and L&M are no longer affiliated in any way," said Ryan Wahlen, sales manager for Pleasant Valley. “We still sell some potatoes to L&M, but they don’t do our marketing or sales.”

The change is “more of a strategic move than anything,” he said. “It wasn’t that we had any hard feelings toward L&M or that they did a bad job. Quite the contrary, we still have a great relationship with L&M.”

But the growers who own Pleasant Valley — Kim Wahlen Farms, Val Wahlen Farms, Ray Duffin Farms and Barry Christensen & Sons — “felt like as part of a national organization, they had lost a little bit of their identity.”

Almost 100 percent of the potatoes run through the Pleasant Valley facility are “our own potatoes,” Mr. Wahlen said. “We don’t really run any outside potatoes through the shed. [The growers] felt like we need to take advantage of that. Basically, in our marketing, we wanted to make sure that the industry knew that we are a grower-shipper in every sense of the term. We grow our own potatoes. Everything we pack is our own. We have been doing it for the last 25 years, and we have been growing potatoes since 1910, so we feel like there is some value there.”

Also on sales at Pleasant Valley is Marcus Bradshaw. Both Messrs. Wahlen and Bradshaw had been employees of L&M.

“I’ve been an employee of L&M for the last four years,” said Mr. Wahlen, who had been handling sales for Pleasant Valley prior to that. But when Pleasant Valley and L&M formed their agreement four years ago, “part of the conditions of the arrangement was that I went to work for L&M.”

Mr. Marcus came on board about a year ago.

“For us,” bringing the sales and marketing back in house “hasn’t been that big of a change,” he said. “We sit at the same desks” in the same office and still “have the same phone numbers. It’s just that our invoices are going out as Pleasant Valley rather than L&M.”

Last year was “a rough year” for potato growers in Idaho. “I don’t think that is any secret,” Mr. Wahlen said. “Going into this year, they just felt like it was important for them to try to take control of their own costs again.”

There are “not very many true grower-shippers left in the state,” he said. “There may be the same number of shippers in the state as there used to be,” but much of the sales and marketing have been consolidated under several large marketing organizations. “As such, I don’t think the receivers necessarily know where their potatoes are coming from.”

Pleasant Valley’s potato acreage this year is “down somewhat, but not much” from the prior year. “We stay pretty consistent year to year,” Mr. Wahlen said. The company grows russet Norkotah and russet Burbank potatoes, “mostly Norkotahs,” he said. “We will pack Norkotahs through the end of April and Burbanks in the summer months.” The potatoes are packed under the “Pleasant Valley” label.

Yields are down a little this year compared to last year, which set a record statewide for average yield per acre. The size profile is “somewhat smaller,” and “quality is nice. There is “a high percentage of number ones,” he said.

Although the harvest started a little late this year, “we are actually finishing about a week ahead of schedule,” he said Oct. 4. “We finish tomorrow.” Weather for the harvest has been ideal. “We couldn’t ask for a better harvest.”