Center, CO — With Dwayne Weyers in sales, Jed Ellithorpe in business development/operations and Jake Burris as farm manager all agreeing the 2016 potato crop looked good and the pipeline was emptying out nicely in mid-August, Aspen Produce headed into the new season with a consensus of optimism.
“The pipeline emptied out of old crop, and summer spuds should clean up nicely,” Ellithorpe said. “That’s not over our head, and we’re not seeing as much from Wisconsin this year. Also, quality looks beautiful here. I’m optimistic about the year.”
Weyers added, “If the window is indicative of the season, we should start with a good market because the pipeline won’t be full.”
Ellithorpe said Aspen started the new season in late August with russets. Yellows this year will make up less than 10 percent of its volume, and the company is not handling reds, he added.
“We sourced our certified Norkotah seed from outside this area,” Ellithorpe noted, adding, “It’s a challenge to find seed that meets our specs.” The yellow seed came from Ponderosa Partnership, Aspen’s sister farming operation.
Burris said water was “average” for the year and not the paramount concern it has been in previous years. “We had a cool, wet spring and then heat, with fewer potatoes under the plants.”
“The size will be bigger,” Ellithorpe said.
The 2016 crop includes some organics being grown by Ponderosa Partnership, although Ellithorpe said Aspen won’t be packing the certified spuds. “We’re growing some on the farm side, but we decided to partner with another shed in packing them,” he said.
Ponderosa grew organic russets this year, and Ellithorpe said, “The San Luis Valley would be a good place to source organics in 2016.”
Though the shed won’t be packing organics this season, it will be packing Ponderosa Partnership Spanish onions for mixed loads.
“We installed an onion line and will pack 50-pound mesh bags of conventional Spanish yellows,” Ellithorpe said. The onions will start shipping in the winter months, and Burris said they “look really good.”
The men waxed political to a degree, commenting on the upcoming election and its possible effects on the potato/produce industry. “Just having the election matter settled will be good for the market,” Burris said.
Ellithorpe said, “Hillary will be Obama on steroids, and Trump will have unintended consequences.” He added, “It’s sad the media has relied on the elections for their business model.”
Regardless of which way the election goes, labor promises to be a concern at least in the short-term.
Burris, who hires farm workers, said, “I’m tasked with finding people for a certain part of the year, and it’s becoming more and more difficult — as far as the farm goes, our biggest challenge. We have a harvest crew of 25-30 people and another 30 for the shed. Ten are full-time farm employees, and about 10 percent of the others come back year after year. Ten years ago it was more like 20 percent returned each year.”
Ellithorpe said, “Our biggest complaint in labor is the government. They keep paying people not to work.”
Monte Vista, CO — Colorado Potatoes, the new and inclusive name for promotional efforts by the Colorado Potato Administrative Committee, is broadening its reach this year not only with its new moniker, website and social media presence but also with its retooled message.
As explained on the CPAC Facebook page, the committee was founded 75 years ago to organize Colorado potato growers and shippers “under a common purpose and industry,” with “self-regulation and quality standards, production practice management, legislation, marketing, and research funding” comprising some of the organization’s functions.
In 2016 CPAC represents a smaller group of growers and shippers in its two regions, the San Luis Valley and Greeley, largely due to consolidation within the industry, but the goal of “working together for the future of the entire potato industry” has actually expanded over the years.
The San Luis Valley, with more than 150 potato-growing families, is the second-largest spud production area in the United States. Nearly six dozen potato varieties are grown in the valley, including the most popular russets, golds and reds as well as fingerlings, purples and other colors.
And September is harvest month, with virtually every farm in overdrive as the spuds are brought in for early shipping and for storage.
At the CPAC offices in Monte Vista, CPAC Assistant Director Linda Weyers and Savannah Schlaufman, marketing administrative assistant, have been working on several 2016-17 season promotional campaigns, starting with the Aug. 26-Sept. 5 Colorado State Fair in Pueblo and the San Luis Valley Potato Festival in Monte Vista Sept. 9 and 10.
The State Fair booth, manned by Future Farmers of America members, featured plenty of Colorado Potato information and prizes. Weyers and Schlaufman said the prizes were presented for social media uploads of photos taken with the cutout Potato Pal mascot, and all ages were permitted to participate.
“The State Fair organizers tell us that 400,000 visitors go through the fair,” Weyers said. She added that the “kid-friendly” Colorado Potato booth was in the ag pavilion, which is always a big draw for families and kids.
Just days after the State Fair closes down, the Potato Festival will again be staged in Chapman Park on the west side of Monte Vista and will include many of the traditional activities for youngsters — face painting, mashed potato pit, games and races.
A free concert will be hosted Friday night, accompanied by food prepared at the Spud Nation Food Truck.
“This year’s proceeds will go to the Ron Crowther family,” Weyers said. Crowther, a well-known San Luis Valley grower for the Monte Vista Potato Growers cooperative, died in a motorcycle accident in July. “The Potato Festival is not going to be easy for us,” Weyers continued. “Ron was a very big part of that event and other activities, always willing to help and contribute.”
On Saturday there will also be chefs demos, a potato field bus tour, a 5K race, a townwide scavenger hunt that involves local merchants and, for the first time a train tour of the growing region.
During the Olympics Colorado Potatoes was featured in three 15-second ads that ran on NBC affiliate Channel 9 in Denver, and later in September spots for the new crop will run as part of the Colorado Proud campaign. Weyers said 15-second spots will run during two pre-season Denver Bronco games on Channel 9.
“We will also be part of the new Colorado Pavilion at PMA Fresh Summit in October,” Weyers said, explaining that the state’s pavilion will have a cohesive theme for all participants.
And in the realm of social media specifically, Colorado Potatoes partnered with Fexy video production company for a 30-second “fast hands” recipe video that is set to run during September. The video will also be featured on the Committee’s website, www.coloradopotato.org.
On April 26, Calvert Cullen, president of Northampton Growers Produce Sales, Inc., headquartered in Cheriton, VA, told The Produce News the company’s Carolina crops look to be on schedule.
“After the rough winter we had in South Florida, much the same as everyone had in every growing region, we are happy to say that things are pretty much back to normal,” said Cullen. “We are still a bit far out to predict our North Carolina crop with precision, but if things stay the way they are, and baring bad weather systems, we’ll come out with a very nice crop.”
South Florida was in the same basic situation with Mexico, California, South and Central America in the winter and early spring. El Niño wreaked havoc of some level to all growing areas resulting in very short volumes of the majority of crops.
Northampton Growers got back on track with its northern Florida crops, and its Georgia program was gearing up to full swing in late April.
“Our Central Florida crops will wrap up about the end of May with the last of the season items like peppers,” said Cullen. “In Georgia we started harvesting cabbage in the middle of April, and we’re now getting ready to start with squashes.”
He added that yields and quality of the Georgia crops are very good.
“The cabbage market is currently strong, but squash is still in the tank because every growing region came on at the same time creating a glut,” he explained.
The company was still planting in North Carolina at the end of April. Its farms are in Hyde County, and the packing shed is in Fairfield.
“We will start cabbage harvesting in North Carolina on May 15,” said Cullen. “Green beans and squashes will start around June 1, peppers around June 20 and sweet corn will be ready around June 25 to July 1. It’s a 90 day crop, and North Carolina is the only place we grow it. For corn you need land and a proper equipment set up. We have a little window with North Carolina corn before Michigan starts its movement.”
Plantings are done with precision at Northampton Growers. String beans are ready for harvesting 52 days from planting and squash is ready in 45 days.
“New faster growing varieties have come on over the years,” Cullen noted. “Green beans used to take 60 days, and are now at about 52 days.”
The company follows the seasons from Florida northward each year, wrapping up in Michigan in late summer. It then reverses its growing pattern and works back southward.
Cullen is partners with Steve McCready, who is also the company’s comptroller.
“With the rough winter behind us, we sure look forward to smooth sailing as we move north,” said Cullen. “But we don’t let our guard down for a second. We know a storm can brew at just about any time that could set everyone’s crops back.”
Rumors are once again circulating that the owner of Price Chopper supermarkets is considering a sale, according to a report by the Supermarket News. However, company spokeswoman Mona Golub, told the Albany Business Review that those speculations are not true.
“That would be rumor and innuendo, to which I will not respond,” Golub said.
Back in May, it was also reported that Price Chopper was considering selling its stores, to which Golub said, “there is no truth whatsoever to this (annual) rumor.”
Schenectady, NY-based Golub Corp., the family run parent company of Price Chopper supermarkets, owns 135 stores in six Northeast states, making it the 42nd-largest food retailer in North America. The company has currently been undergoing an upgrade and re-brand to its stores as Market 32, so far opening ten stores with more on the way.
The company has invested tens of millions of dollars in the new Market 32 stores, and has hired and trained hundreds of employees, as well as cut costs by eliminating administrative positions at its headquarters. The transformation is being led by Scott Grimmett, who was appointed chief executive officer in January.