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Pleasant Valley Potato runs Norkotahs into spring, Burbanks through summer

Not all packinghouses in Idaho run Russet Norkotah potatoes for as long as Pleasant Valley Potato Inc. in Aberdeen, ID. The Norkotah variety harvest starts weeks ahead of the first digs of Idaho’s longtime mainstay variety, the Russet Burbank, giving shippers a head start on the season. But for some shippers, the Burbank is still the dominant variety once it gets going.

At Pleasant Valley Potato, however, “we will pack Norkotahs through the fall and winter and into right around the first part of April,” said Sales Manager Ryan Wahlen. “I would say we are one of the shippers that run them the longest.” Then “we run Burbanks through the spring and summer.”

The reason for doing so is quite simple, he said. Some customers prefer the Norkotahs.

“The sizing and appearance of Norkotahs have always been their calling card,” Mr. Wahlen said. “They are so uniform in shape and appearance that retailers really seem to like them because of that.”

However, historically, the foodservice sector has preferred Burbanks when they are available because of the higher level of solids.

But “the Norkotahs, over the years, have, I think, improved a lot in terms of the solids,” Mr. Wahlen said. “Because of the improved solids, I think they are working a lot better for foodservice than they did when they were first introduced years ago.”

Pleasant Valley grows and packs only Russet Norkotahs and Russet Burbanks and does not get into the specialty varieties.

“Our acres are pretty much the same year after year,” varying only “a few hundred acres up or down” as required by crop rotation, Mr. Wahlen indicated. “We don’t really go out and try to increase or decrease. We are pretty set with what we do.”

Pleasant Valley is and has long been owned by four family farms: Kim Wahlen Farms, Val Wahlen Farms, Ray Duffin Farms and Barry Christensen & Sons.

With only minor exceptions, “they supply us with basically 100 percent of what we ship year after year,” Mr. Wahlen told The Produce News Sept. 9. “This year, we are running for one week from an outside grower. But for the most part, our growers that own this shed keep us supplied with everything we need.”

Pleasant Valley Potato is “a grower-shipper in the true sense of the term,” he added.

The harvest season in Idaho is running considerably later than usual this year, Mr. Wahlen said. “We had the coldest spring on record around here, and that delayed the growth of the plants — I would say put them behind at least three weeks.”

As the summer weather warmed up, the potatoes started to make up for some of that delay with some good growth. But then “we got a stretch of some real hot days when it didn’t really cool off at night much, and that stressed the plants. The potatoes, when that happened, basically just stopped growing,” he said.

As a result of the weather issue, “the size profile was pretty small” on the test digs. “So we’ve delayed our harvest as much as possible and hope that the extra time will let the potatoes size up. I think it certainly helps.”

Pleasant Valley Potato has upgraded its bagging line this year, Mr. Wahlen said.

“We put in a new Volmpack bagger this past spring. Our packing facility is pretty up-to-date in terms of equipment and technology,” he said.

The company handles its own sales. “Marcus Bradshaw is the other salesperson that works with me, and between the two of us, we do all the sales,” Mr. Wahlen said.

Teresa Esparza is the sales assistant and handles transportation for the company, he added.