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Dublin Farms has long reach with potatoes, other diverse products

Dublin Farms Inc. in Horntown, VA, is a grower, shipper and packer of potatoes for the fresh market. The company also grows snap beans for processing and grain crops like corn, soybeans and wheat for the poultry industry.

David Hickman, vice president of the company, said that the firm sells directly to retailers, including chainstores, and to wholesalers, repackers and brokers at terminal markets.

“We ship from Miami, Florida, to Montreal, Ontario,” said Mr. Hickman. “In the early part of the season, we’re heaviest into Northeastern cities like Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York City, Boston, Syracuse [NY] and Buffalo [NY]. When North Carolina and other southern states stop shipping, we start moving potatoes in that direction.”

The company produces several varieties each of round white, redskin and yellow flesh potatoes.

“We plant during March,” explained Mr. Hickman. “This year, we’ll start harvesting reds and whites on June 23. Yellow varieties will start on June 28. We’re about 10 days early this year, due to warmer-than-normal temperatures. We’ve had very dry conditions, but we’re getting 100 percent of our acreage this year. The crop has had no adverse problems. We planted in dry conditions, so every plant came up. Warm days and cool nights — just what potatoes like — is what they got this year.”

Dublin Farms’ potato movement runs through the first week of August, in what Mr. Hickman said is a six-week deal. The company digs, packages and refrigerates its potatoes overnight prior to shipping. “It’s important to get the core temperature of the potatoes down to the low 50s before we ship them,” he said.

He also noted that potato consumption is up. “We took a hit from the low-carbohydrate diet a few years ago,” he said. “But people have gone back to eating them, and they provide good nutritional value for the money. The market is ready for the new spring crop.”

Potato production on the eastern side of the United States is falling into place nicely this year. Mr. Hickman said that Florida and North Carolina crops were on time, and Virginia is running a little early. “We should have orderly marketing this year,” he said. “Everyone through Virginia seems to be in the right window. We’re hearing that growers farther north are running behind because of rain, so that could give us a wider-than-normal window.”

Dublin Farms has made numerous improvements in its packingline equipment in the past several years. In 2010, the operation was certified for Good Agriculture Practices, and it will be recertifying again this year.

“We are adding 50-pound cartons to our line this year,” said Mr. Hickman. “Normally, we pack in five- and 10-pound poly bags, and five- to 50-pound paper bags. Our 2,000-pound totes go to repackers. Our five- and 10-pound poly premium bags are mesh for extra ventilation. Our potatoes carry the ‘Dublin Farms’ brand.”

Mr. Hickman’s grandfather started growing potatoes in 1870, and Dublin Farms has handled the commodity to some extent ever since.

“My brother, Phil, started the current operation in 1974,” he added. “Today, we send out 10 to 15 tractor-trailer loads per day during our season.”