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Russet-based Worley & McCullough gets early start on season

MONTE VISTA, CO — With an Aug. 18 start for its 2011 potato season, Worley & McCullough Inc. has some of the earliest loads leaving the San Luis Valley this year.

According to Trampas McCormick, sales manager for W&M, the spuds were planted in April, and a Texas line of Norkotahs that “did well in the July heat” came out first.

Working with Mr. McCormick in administration is Victoria Peters, office and farm office manager, and the team was gearing up in mid-August for increased activity as harvest picked up steam.“We are a russet-based shed,” Mr. McCormick said Aug. 16. “Our farmers came off early.”

He said Blazers, a good storage variety, will be harvested and shipped later in the season, and he estimated approximately 1 million hundredweight will be shipped again this year.

Calling the base of seven growers “much more than just dirt-stirrers,” Mr. McCormick said farmers today “have become agronomists and chemists.” The technical expertise complements the farmers’ innate knowledge of potatoes, often passed down from generation to generation among families in the area.

“Food safety is huge, and it has made farmers even more aware, efficient and knowledgeable,” he said.

One example of that heritage is Jim McCullough and his sons, Jason and Steven, who make up Jim McCullough Farms and are the primary grower for W&M.

Pack options are 5- and 10-pound bags and 50-pound paper sacks, and Mr. McCormick said W&M also fills special orders and packs for several private labels. The spuds are grown for fresh-market retail, he added.

For the new crop, Mr. McCormick said he sees “Colorado holding strong against what looks like a good crop nationwide,” and he said the region is down 1,500 acres from 2010-11.

“The San Luis Valley has really come together,” he said of cooperation among growers and shippers in the state’s biggest potato-growing area.

“We understand that to get a hand, you have to lend a hand — and the hands we have lent are helping us climb some cliffs in the potato market,” he said.

Potatoes have fared better than many other commodities, he said.

The sales manager, now in his third year, said in addition to its established domestic receivers, W&M has found Mexico to be a strong market.

“With the economy the way it is, it’s good for potatoes,” he said, adding that Colorado is “still short” on spuds this season.

“I feel as though the Colorado industry is one of commitment and loyalty, and the San Luis Valley is a strong marketing entity,” Mr. McCormick said. “Our name has value.”

The shed itself has seen upgrades in the past year, with a new electronic carton machine for Bs added to maximize grower returns.

He concluded, “Worley & McCullough is growing as Colorado grows.”