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Potandon’s Gabriel Boldt talks about the current ‘state of the pile’ for potatoes

From planting time through harvest, 2019 presented some difficult challenges for growers for potatoes and many other crops in the state of Idaho and across the country, according to Gabriel Boldt, potato variety operations manager at Potandon Produce LLC in Idaho Falls, ID, the nation’s largest shipper of table stock potatoes.

This year, “the whole United States has been affected by some different weather patterns than we have traditionally seen,” he said. In Idaho, late spring frost and early fall frost shortened the growing season, disrupting plantings and curtailing the harvest prematurely.

The result is lower than average yields and a smaller than normal size profile.

01-Potandon-Gabriel-BoldtGabriel BoldtBoldt talked to The Produce News Nov. 21, about the 2019 potato crop now in storage — what he called “the state of the pile” — and how Potandon is responding to the resultant marketing challenges in order to meet customer needs as fully as possible.

Potandon sources potatoes not only from Idaho but from every major growing region around the country, and “what we are seeing is a reduction in yield” as well as in size profiles “as we put these potatoes away,” he said. There are fewer potatoes available this season than the average of the last five years, and as they are pulled out of storage to pack, the percentage of frost-damaged potatoes that must be sorted out “keeps going up each day,” especially for potatoes from Idaho and from the Red River Valley.

During harvest, growers “put the potatoes away as best they could,” he said, but problems “continue to arise” in storage. “So it is a day-by-day management process” to get potatoes to market in good condition “as soon as we possibly can, and yet sustain the storage season as long as we have always done to get us into the late spring and summer months,” he said.

“Here at Potandon,” Boldt continued, “we want to be as flexible as we can, to try to keep all of the customers happy, to keep their business flowing.” But customers may need to be a bit flexible as well. “We do have supplies. They just may have to be adjusted a little bit on the profiles” that customers are taking.”

In red and gold potatoes, for example, while A size potatoes are usually the big movers, this year, “we have a higher percentage of B’s, just by the nature of they way they grew this year.” That could make B’s as much as $4 to $7 cheaper per hundredweight than A’s. The B’s will still be a good product, but just a little smaller in size, and customers will still be able to keep their shelves stocked, he said. “It is a good deal, because it is at a reduced price from the size A. So that is the strategy we are looking to promote here at Potandon.”

The situation with russets is similar, except that the russet crop “probably got hurt the most” because of the number of acres not yet harvested when the frost hit, he said. Again, “we are going to have to be flexible” and “navigate the same type of process” in terms of size and price.

The weather patterns of the 2019 growing season have affected onions as well. As with the potatoes, volume and sizing are a bit smaller than average. Still, “there is an ample supply if we are just flexible on the solution, on sizing.”

Potandon’s “core business strategy is to have committed supplies for 12 months through the year,” Boldt said.

Even when supplies are tight, “we have options,” including pack styles, value-added convenience products such as One Step … Done! in the Green Giant label, and special varieties such as the Carbsmart potato “for the carb-conscious customers.” Most marketing companies are not that diversified.