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Wada Farms fielding strong potato, onion and sweet potato programs

by Rand Green | December 06, 2010
Idaho potatoes may be the core product for Wada Farms Marketing Group LLC in Idaho Falls, ID, both currently and historically, but the company is a strong year-round supplier of both potatoes and onions from many producing areas, and of sweet potatoes as well.

"We have potatoes and onions all across the country," said Kevin Stanger, senior vice president of sales and marketing and a partner in the company.

With regard to potatoes, “we have a good strong base throughout all the major potato producing states.”

This year, in addition to Idaho russets, “we grew our own reds and yellows” in Idaho, he said. There are “a couple of different varieties we are trying.” Apart from that, “we also have an extensive program throughout the country on reds and yellows” and also on petite potatoes in assorted varieties. And “we've got a great fingerling program,” so overall it is “a pretty well-rounded base” on all types of potatoes from all areas.

In the onion category, “our major onion program” is in the Western Idaho- Eastern Oregon area around Parma, ID, and Nyssa, OR, he said. That deal provides the company with a “good supply” of red, white and yellow onions. But in addition, Wada has onions out of Washington as well as other areas of the country, providing the company with “a good base of a year-round supply of onions,” he said.

“We are looking for a good year this year on onions,” Mr. Stanger said Nov. 15.

In sweet potatoes, the company markets products “out of all of the five major producing states, so we’ve got a full national coverage,” he said. “About any area you want to get sweet potatoes out of, we can do.”

As with onions and potatoes, the sweet potatoes are available year-round, he said. They are “a storage crop” with storage time-frame somewhat similar to potatoes. “There is a part of the season when they are a little tighter,” he continued, noting that the “supply is a little more limited as you get into late summer, just before the new crop comes on.” But even then, “there are some available, and you can get them year round now.”

This year’s sweet potato crop is “a little better than the year before” when there were some major rain problems, he said.

With onions, particularly in the Northwest, the crop had “kind of a tough growing season” due to weather. While “overall the crop looks pretty good,” yields were off, and he expects that “the supply situation is going to be a little tighter.” There should be “a good onion market year,” he said.

In potatoes, “for us personally, especially for our Idaho crop, the quality looks good,” Mr. Stanger said. Size profiles vary from lot to lot, “but all in all, we think we’ve got a good looking crop.” Volume is down from last year, so “we will have to pace ourselves. But we plan to go throughout the entire season. I wouldn’t say ample supply, but we will have supply to cover our regular customers year-round.”

Supplies will “definitely be a factor” in the market this year, he said. “This will be the smallest [volume of] potatoes on hand” since around 1990, “so it definitely is going to have some impact. But I think if we can market and ship at a reasonable pace,” at least with regard to the Idaho crop, “we can have sufficient supply to do what we need to do … and still provide a good deal for the consumer.” It should be “a good year for retailers, and a good year for foodservice … and a good year, hopefully, for the grower” with farm gate prices hopefully high enough that growers can “make a little bit of money” and recoup some of last year’s losses.

Wada Farms packs its products under the “Dole” and “Wada Farms” labels and also has co-packers around the country for the “Dole” label.