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Aspen Produce stays the course for year-round shipping of potatoes

CENTER, CO — Describing 2010-11 as a good year for Aspen Produce and sister company, Ponderosa Partnership farm, Farm and Operations Manager Jed Ellithorpe said on Aug. 15 the Center, CO, shed was running both 2010-11 San Luis Valley spuds and new crop potatoes out of northern Colorado.

“We have had plenty of potatoes,” Mr. Ellithorpe said of Aspen’s 12-month program, noting that overall the valley had experienced a short crop.

Shipments of the 2011-12 crop for Aspen were set to start Aug. 29 with early varieties.

“The bulk of the crop will be coming in a little later,” he added.

Aspen markets a full mix of yellows, red and russets with volume heavy to Norkotahs, and Mr. Ellithorpe said that while production will be similar this year to last, the farm has cut back somewhat in potato acreage due to rotation and also to water concerns. A cooler spring also affected the crop in parts of the area, he said.

“But basically we’ll have the same [overall] supplies,” he said.

In addition to its own farming operation, Aspen markets for about a dozen outside growers. While most grow standard varieties, a few are working with newer spud varieties, and Mr. Ellithorpe said last year he expected the 2011 volume to be between 10-15 percent of those new potatoes.

The operation includes a greenhouse breeding program through Gunnels Farms, and last season the program had four varieties in development. Commercial production was begun this year, with new labeling now in the works.

Mr. Ellithorpe said the breeders are focused on taste quality, and if a retailer, foodservice customer or distributor requests an exclusive variety with specific qualities, the breeder is able to provide it.

Similarly, research is being conducted to find which varieties work best for the individual market segments, i.e., colored varieties for salad processors and bakers for foodservice.

Strict control is maintained over the varieties throughout the growing, handling and packing, and quality control is paramount. All partners are certified through GHP and GAP.

Concomitant to the research and development advancements within the operation has been a swing toward new technology and use of social media at Aspen Produce.

Michele Peterson and Ryan Haynie, newer sales agents at the company who represent a younger generation of produce marketers, are facile in changing technology and social networking and complement the experience of Aspen veterans Dwayne Weyers and Rick Ellithorpe.

Mr. Haynie is also fluent in Spanish, and Mexico is a good market for Aspen.

“We expect demand to pick up and fully anticipate increased volume,” Jed Ellithorpe said. “They’re prepared and ready to do it at that end, too.”

Also new to the Aspen team is packingshed foreman Troy Lawson, who came aboard this year, Mr. Ellithorpe said.

The shed offers a range of packs, including 3-, 5-, 10-,

15-, 20- and 25-pound mesh bags as well as several sizes of poly. Fifty-pound paper, carton or burlap packing and special bins are also available.