Some make their name in specialty potatoes, some dabble

10/26/2009 11:30:40 AM
Ashley Bentley

HEYBURN, Idaho — The Idaho potato industry, which made its name on the russet burbank potato, continues to expand beyond its roots.

Many of the state’s shippers at least dabble in specialty potatoes, and one is completely dedicated to them.

Southwind Farms, which used to sell its own specialty potatoes to the foodservice market exclusively, debuted a retail pack at the Produce Marketing Association’s Oct. 2-5 Fresh Summit 2009 in Anaheim, Calif., said Rob Lake, who handles agronomy and market development.

Ashley Bentley

Rob Lake, who handles agronomy and market development for Southwind Farms, shows off some fingerling potatoes being packed at the company's facility in Heyburn, Idaho.

“We’ve had some other packs, but this is the first time our own is going through us and into retail,” Lake said.

The new pack is a 1.5-pound resealable polybag with fingerlings. The specialty potato company’s specialty. Southwind Farms grows, packs and sells fingerlings, but also brings in other specialties. This year marks its sixth season in business.

“We’ve nearly doubled or tripled our acreage every year,” Lake said. “But this is our first year in business we haven’t doubled.”

The company started with 4 acres, but now has more than 200.

“As far as growing russet burbanks, that’ll probably never happen here,” Lake said.

Lake said the retail product emerged because some of Southwind’s foodservice customers had their own customers in retail that were looking for fingerlings.

“It takes a lot of money to develop a program, so it was like one step at a time, and we started with foodservice,” Lake said. “Foodservice is still growing for us, but we think the potential is in retail.”

Southwind started harvesting the first week of August, and should be harvest through Oct. 1, with storage product lasting until April or May. Lake expects to harvest up to 35,000 cwt. of potatoes this year.

“The crop is looking really good, probably one of the best crops we’ve ever had,” Lake said. “Pack-out’s excellent this year.”

The weather was so conducive to growing this year that the company started harvesting about two weeks early, he said.

The market, however, is not looking as good as the crop looks.

“Pricing so far is a little less than last,” Lake said. “California had some product that was king of hanging in the market a little longer than last.”


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