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Benny Hall: Nothing beats the taste of a freshly harvested potato

“We plan to start movement on June 25, about a week to 10 days later than normal,” Benny Hall Sr., owner of Benny Hall & Sons Inc. in Temperanceville, VA, told The Produce News on June 4. “We had a late planting because of the wet and cool spring. It was May before it finally started to warm up, and we’re getting plenty of heat now.”

Hall added that it’s been dry for the past month, but the storm that moved in from the middle of the country dumped a nice rain the previous weekend.

“We had to pump in some water before that rain hit, so it helped considerably,” he said. “We won’t have to irrigate for a week to 10 days going forward. But the forecast is calling for more rain over the weekend, which will go a long way for us.”

He noted that the company’s potatoes, giving the right amount of moisture, will double in size every week from now until harvest begins.

Hall is the third generation to operate the Eastern Shore farming operation. The company grows red, white and yellow, or Yukon Gold, potatoes, he said, noting that, “we plant only true Yukon Gold potatoes, not off-brands.”

He added that the quality of the potato crop is looking outstanding so far this year. The company grows potatoes on about 900 acres.

Because everyone is running late up and down East Coast, Hall said that he feels that everyone will have a window to market their crops.

“We are later than usual, but so is Carolina, New York and Delaware, so hopefully none of us will be stepping on anyone else’s window,” he said.

Demand for new-crop potatoes continues to be strong. The company sources supplies from Florida before its own season starts and demand has been strong since the beginning of this year’s movement.

Hall also explained why new-crop potatoes are so highly desired as compared to stored potatoes.

“Think about the taste of a potato that you buy from your grocer during the winter,” he said. “You’ll realize that it has an ‘earthy’ taste. That’s the typical taste that you get from a potato coming out of storage. Fresh potatoes don’t have this taste, and that’s why fresh supplies are so highly desired.”

He added that when harvest is under way in Virginia, he and his crew are at the facility between 14 and 15 hours a day.

“My wife cooks lunch and dinner for us, and we all look forward to those just harvested potatoes,” Hall said. “The first day they come out of the ground I can sit and eat three in a row, and savor every bite. There is nothing better-tasting than that.”

He also explained that buyers like light-colored potatoes. The soil on the Eastern Shore is lighter than the Carolinas, and so the potatoes aren’t as dark and are typically even more highly desired.

Benny Hall added fingerling potatoes to its plantings this year. It’s the first time the company is experimenting with them.

“I hear there’s a big demand, and they get a premium,” Hall said. “So I’m looking forward to seeing how they perform.”

David Scott is a sales representative for the company. He works year-round with Hall.

“David is a great asset to us,” said Hall. “He’s very conscientious. During the summer months he’s with us during all of those long days.”

Benny Hall will wrap up its Eastern Shore operation around Aug. 10-15 this year, but the company buys and sells other fresh produce items year-round.

“Anything we can sell and buy to make a penny on, we do it,” said Mr. Hall. “It helps that we have our own fleet of refrigerated trucks, so we do a lot of our own deliveries to customers. Customers want timely delivery, and we can give it to them.”

Benny Hall & Sons is third-party audited. It holds a Superior rating of 940 from the American Institute of Bakers’ certification. The company is currently preparing for its Primus and GlobalGAP harmonization audits which will be done in July.

Mr. Hall’s grandfather, Fred Hall, started the company in 1950. It packs and ships its potatoes under the “Old Mike” brand. The label name came from its founder’s Boston terrier, Old Mike. The Hall family still has Boston terriers and says “its potatoes are just as lovable as the dogs are.”