New potato grower-shipper launches in Skagit Valley

09/06/2013 01:59:00 PM
Jim Offner

Three veteran potato growers in the Skagit Valley got together last spring, bought a potato packing facility that had just closed and launched a new growing-packing-shipping operation.

Sterling Hill LLC, Burlington, Wash., expects to ship its first potatoes in early September.

Leading the new enterprise are brothers Jim and Norm Nelson Jr. and Tony Wisdom.

The Nelsons had run Sterling Hill Potatoes, a growing operation, for 12 years after having been growers with their father, Norm Sr., at Norm Nelson Inc., in Burlington.

Wisdom had managed Country Cousins Inc., a growing arm of Valley Pride Sales Inc. of Mount Vernon, Wash., for 10 years.

The three started the new company March 1, when Mark, Kent and Tim Knutzen closed Puget Sound Potato and sold them the company’s packing and equipment storage facilities and its 40-acre site for an undisclosed sum, Wisdom said Aug. 28.

The company also rents some production acreage from the Knutzens, Wisdom said.

“They’re second-generation farmers, growing for 25-35 years each, and I’ve been growing them 10-15 years, so we just decided to go out on our own and start our own facility and, at the same time,” Wisdom said.

The partners renovated the facilities and installed new equipment, Wisdom said.

“It was a total redo of their packing line, upgraded with technology that allows us to do a multitude of pack styles, size styles, etc.,” Wisdom said.

Country Cousins had been packing the Nelsons’ potatoes before this year, so it was an easy transition, Wisdom said.

Sterling Hill LLC, which employs about 30 workers, grows, packs and ships red, yellow and white potatoes, plus specialty varieties at customer request, Wisdom said.

The company’s sales manager is Dave Clark, who had been a sales manager with Mount Vernon-based Washington Bulb, a flower bulb and fresh flower grower-shipper. Clark is a 10-year veteran of the produce industry, Wisdom said.

The company’s main brand is Sterling, with Cascade as a secondary label, Wisdom said, noting that it has national distribution and export business with retailers, wholesalers and foodservice customers.

He said the company will ship spuds typically from late August through early June yearly.

The company doesn’t pack anybody else’s potatoes, Wisdom said.

In a news release, Sterling said in specializes in “controlling the product flow from seed to customer,” provides an unbroken cold chain and offers “custom potato varieties and pack sizes,” among other services.

Packing and shipping of the 2013 crop was scheduled to get underway in the first week of September.

Wisdom declined to say how many acres the company has.

“We’re a major player in the area, for sure,” he said.

Production volume is “about 30 semi (truck) loads per week.



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