Idaho potato growers brace for more change

10/11/2010 02:26:34 PM
Tom Karst

If the only constant is change, Idaho potato shippers certainly won’t argue the point.

“There have been more changes in the last seven to 10 years than there were in the previous 25 years,” said Kevin Searle, general manager for Shelley, Idaho-based GPOD of Idaho.

Changes have affected brokers, customers and growers.

Smaller growers have phased out and more growers have invested in packing operations.

“Growers have more control of their destiny than they ever have as partners in packing facilities,” Searle said.

Growers now have to understand what it takes to ship potatoes and understand how a packing shed operates.

There will be more consolidation, said Bob Meek, chief executive officer of Wada Farms Marketing Group LLC, Idaho Falls.

“This industry is not a healthy industry,” Meek said. “We’ve got to look for ways where we can be a lower-cost producer.”

Meek said there are third of the number of buyers dealing with Idaho potatoes as there were 20 years ago.

“They don’t have to call 10 small sheds to place an order,” Meek said. “They want to make one call.

More consolidation in the sales and customer side of the business is likely ahead, said Jim McBride, sales manager for Mart Produce, Rupert.

The consolidation has been felt on the grower side, even as potato volume has increased.

“We used to deal with 40 growers, we are probably down to 20 now,” McBride said.

Another change in the last 20 years is that nearly all potatoes are committed to processors or fresh packers when they are planted.

“There used to be a lot of open spuds to buy, but in our view there are very few spuds planted that are not already committed,” he said.

Banks have demanded that growers “have a home” for potatoes or they will not lend them money for growing costs he said.

“You have to have your ducks linked up for the whole year, six to eight months in advance,” McBride said.



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