“Eastern Shore potato growers got a little later start than normal,” Butch Nottingham, marketing specialist for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, headquartered in Richmond, VA, told The Produce News in late May. “The weather was wet and cool which slowed down planting. But now we’re getting weather that is highly conducive for growing and so the crop is looking really good. One grower I spoke with yesterday said that his crop was catching up quickly, and he anticipates a normal start time of June 17. We should be in full swing by early July.”
Although numerous fresh produce items are grown in the Eastern Shore region, the VDACS focuses heavily on the state’s potato crops because growers there typically produce between 3,000 to 4,000 acres of potatoes with an estimated annual value of $15-25 million dollars.
Most of the potatoes produced in Virginia are shipped up and down the eastern portion of the country. When northern areas are not producing, much of the crop is distributed in those regions. When the southern states stop producing, shipments are redirected to the south. Some of the potatoes, the amount depending on market conditions every year, are distributed in Canada.
Growers on the Eastern Shore produce high-quality red, white, yellow and russet potatoes. One operation in particular specializes in russets, and some others produce them as a small portion of their crop.
Dublin Farms in Horntown, VA, is one of the state’s biggest potato producers. Established in 1876, and still family operated today, the company produces white, red and yellow potatoes and offers them in a variety of packaging options. The company ships 12 to 15 loads of potatoes daily from late June through mid-August throughout the entire East Coast, into Canada and west to Cincinnati.
“Campbell Farms is building a new packing house in Hallwood, VA,” said Nottingham. “This potato producer has operations in the upper Midwest and in Florida. This is the first year the company is growing on the Eastern Shore, and it’s a real nice addition to our grower population.”
Other crops are gaining footing on the Eastern Shore’s potato crop. Nottingham pointed out that there is significant acreage in tomatoes and green beans.
“These and potatoes are our big three crops,” said Nottingham. “Our largest green bean operation is C&E Farms in Cheriton, VA. The company, established in 1986, is owned and operated by the Colson family. It is actually one of the largest green bean operations in the nation.”
C&E Farms processes more than 750,000 bushels of beans annually off of 5,000 acres. Its growing territory ranges from Florida to Pennsylvania, and it has packing facilities in Cheriton and in Parrish, FL. The company sells its beans under the “Red Barn” label, which is recognized for its high quality. The company also works with close to 20 other farmers in Virginia, giving it a wide reach.
The two major tomato operations on the shore are expected to produce about the same volumes of round, Roma, grape, cherry and heirloom tomatoes during the season, which runs from late June through September, again this year.
Complimenting tomato production on the Eastern Shore this year is Del Monte Fresh’s initial presence. The company has purchased real estate and packing houses on the shore and will be producing tomatoes for the first time this season.
Nottingham explained that Eastern Shore fresh market crops sold under the “Virginia Grown” locally grown initiative are distributed throughout the East Coast and as far west as the Mississippi River.
“Of the potatoes grown here, about 60 percent go to table stock and the remainder goes to chip processing,” he said.
“Fresh produce harvesting on the Eastern Shore typically starts in early June, but those crops will also be a little later because of the cooler than normal spring,” Nottingham continued. “Growers produce two fresh crop seasons, except for potatoes, which have just one season.”
The Eastern Shore of Virginia consists of two counties: Accomack and Northampton, located on the Atlantic coast of Virginia. The region is part of the Delmarva Peninsula and is separated from the rest of Virginia by the Chesapeake Bay.
Virginia Tech’s Eastern Shore Agricultural Research and Extension Center, located on the Eastern Shore, sits on a 226-acre farm. More than 25 agricultural crops are grown annually for research and extension studies of numerous field crops.
“Through our ‘Virginia Grown’ initiative, we partner with growers, retailers, green markets, you-pick-them farms and roadside stands,” said Nottingham. “We offer point-of-purchase materials, run print ads and we work with the industry on advertising. One of our primary programs is a sales initiative with chain stores where we take buyers to the farms to meet the growers. This helps create business for Virginia’s producers.”