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Cambridge Farms Inc. eyeing smooth transition to Eastern Shore deal

Cambridge Farms Inc. will move into its Eastern Shore potato deal with a smooth transition from Florida supplies. President Steve Cohen spoke with The Produce News May 27 from his office in Hastings, FL. “The [Florida] growers had a successful year and will clean up orderly,” he said.

The company has been in operation for 28 years, with corporate headquarters located in Avon, MA. Mr. Cohen operates the business with his partner, Ken Gad.

Yukon Gold volume is finished. “We planted more reds this year and cut back on whites,” Mr. Cohen said of Florida production. Whites were expected to clean out on June 3, with reds “lingering” until June 10-15.

“We have good demand and quality,” Mr. Cohen went on to say. “There were exceptional yields for growers this year.”

The only time of shortages occurred during maturity skips, when growers might have one color available one day but not on the next. “The skips have kept the market active,” Mr. Cohen noted.

Cambridge Farms will begin with limited potato volume from North Carolina beginning around June 6, “depending upon the weather,” Mr. Cohen said. He described the state’s production conditions as “ideal up until [May 17]. North Carolina is dry but OK. The heat was there when we needed it.” The harvest for North Carolina spuds was a week to 10 days ahead of typical timetables. “I’ve got a good deal facing them,” he added. “It’s a healthy crop. The yields look quite good.” The color mix of potato varieties has remained stable in North Carolina.

The Virginia potato crop is also progressing well. Mr. Cohen said that growers planted slightly fewer russets and more whites this season. Production will ramp up around June 13-15, with some of the more northerly growers looking at a June 20 start date. The first shipments will come from Cape Charles, VA.

“North Carolina and Virginia will clean up quickly and help with Delaware movement,” Mr. Cohen noted.

Looking at the Delaware crop, Mr. Cohen said that fewer russets and more yellows were planted this season. The sowing period was delayed, however, due to spring rains. “Now they’re getting some heat units,” he continued. “The crop really needed the heat because of cool, wet conditions.” While a harvest date of July 13 is typical for Delaware growers, Mr. Cohen expects that date may be pushed to July 18 this season.

Considering all conditions in the Eastern Shore deal, Mr. Cohen provided this assessment. “It could set the tone for a comfortable marketing season for all three regions,” he said.

Cambridge Farms continues to market product under its “Patriot” brand. Bags, which feature high-quality graphics, were redesigned last year. “Solid bags were not allowing heat to dissipate,” Mr. Cohen noted. The company’s new poly-mesh bags have improved circulation.

The firm is also working with its potato partners to promote third-party audits. “We are being proactive on the food-safety front,” Mr. Cohen went on to say. “We strongly feel many receivers will require this of shippers.”

He said that many packingsheds on the East Coast are family-owned businesses. There is no single standard for potato growers at the current time, but Mr. Cohen said that he sees one coming in the near future. As for the work to improve food-safety standards, he said, “It’s been a slow process. It’s been a costly process.”

In addition to potatoes, Cambridge Farms markets cabbage and sweet corn as part of its Eastern Shore deal. Cabbage is marketed during a three-week window beginning June 13. The company’s sweet corn deal will begin the first week of July and finish around Labor Day.