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CENTER, CO -- Anticipating a 25-percent hike in production costs, Jed Ellithorpe, farm and operations manager of Ponderosa Partnership, sister company and grower for Aspen Produce potato distributor, told The Produce News that the operation is maintaining a focus on "good domestic business."

Mr. Ellithorpe said in late December that Aspen Produce "is starting to see more regional sales in the Rocky Mountain area and the Southwest," and he added that shipping costs are a primary factor in that uptick.

"Shipping costs dictate where the potatoes go," he said, noting that fuel and fertilizer will be linchpins in 2011 spud marketing as well. "The increase is largely due to fertilizer," he said. Mr. Ellithorpe countered news of economic recovery, saying that agriculture must still contend with rising costs.

"A booming economy hasn't always helped potato people. When consumers tighten their purse strings, that generally helps potatoes," he said, adding that home meal preparation relies more on staples like potatoes during tough economic times.

However, Mr. Ellithorpe said that the current situation has not held true even to that old maxim. "When the economy went sour this time, we didn't see that as much. So we need to continue to promote potatoes, to educate consumers on how healthy they are and how economical they are," he said. Aspen Produce itself is running its normal capacity, although the country is experiencing a potato shortage. "We will have potatoes through the season," he said.

Mr. Ellithorpe said that the San Luis Valley experienced "some disappearance and quality loss due to heat at harvest and also to varieties," but he added that Aspen has been able to grade out and make No. 1 packs for shipping. "It is a similar situation to frost damage a few years ago as far as inventory numbers," he said.

In the sales office of Aspen Produce, Ryan Haynie and Michele Peterson commented on movement, with Mr. Haynie saying that exports to Mexico depend "on growers and if they want to deal with the added procedures" necessary for shipments to that country. "We are getting a premium price for exports now," he said.

Mr. Haynie also referenced a new variety that Aspen/Ponderosa research and development is working on specifically for the Mexican market's preference for white-fleshed spuds.

"We should have commercial volume in 2011," he said. Ms. Peterson said she was seeing good movement domestically. "The stripper market is strong now," she said in the weeks after Christmas.