Epic Produce cautiously optimistic as it prepares for new crop
A year ago, potato supplies were so tight that many growers exhausted their storage crops well ahead of normal in an effort to keep their customers supplied with spuds, leaving the pipeline devoid of product and resulting in an elevated market. This year, it’s a different story.
The company was shipping the old crop throughout August, according to Art Miller, owner of Epic Produce Sales, though for the second two weeks of the month it was transitioning with new crop also shipping out of Colorado. "This follows our normal time frame," he said, "so there is no deviation from previous years.”
Miller said new crop statewide in Colorado is running anywhere from two days to two weeks behind schedule, with the average being about a week. Tuber counts under the plants are good, he said, but size profile is smaller than average.
“We believe that is due to a couple of factors, such as cooler temperatures and high winds during the early spring growing time frame,” he said. “For the upcoming 2023 new crop, we anticipate having a little smaller size profile as a result. We do anticipate having more volume than average.”
In 2022, Miller said Epic used yellow and white potatoes from California to supplement its supplies. This year, however, the prices of the California product were much higher. Plus, he said the supply-demand situation this year will be more even.
While Epic ships potatoes throughout the United States, as well as into Canada and South America, Mexico represents a large portion of its business. In fact, Miller said Epic has designated lots that are entirely direct to Mexico.
He said that the rule change last year that opened the interior of Mexico to U.S. potato shipments presents some additional business opportunities. However, it is something that must be watched closely.
“Many farmers have been reluctant to add acreage for the interior [of Mexico] because they are not confident the opening is going to last,” said Miller. “The Mexican potato farmers have not given up on trying to get this rule reversed.”
Additionally, he believes loads bound for the interior of Mexico will be under more scrutiny than those destined for the 26-kilometer border zone.
“The current rule states that if there is a pest find and the planting paper trail is not up to their standard, then the grower or the shed can be disqualified from the export program for two years,” Miller said. “So, with these two things in mind, the interior loads have been few and far between. But we do intend to increase our presence in the interior, but we will do so with the utmost caution and will closely follow the rules.”
Miller said other challenges that growers faced in 2022 are still present, though in some cases are not as acute this year.
“Costs have been a factor in all aspects of the supply chain, and I don’t think there is a category that didn’t see a large increase over the past couple of years,” said Miller. “Some costs have leveled off, some have returned to pre-pandemic levels, and some remain high. For example, labor has seen a significant increase, and that is here to stay. We try to be as efficient as possible to keep costs as low as we can. However, growers can only absorb so much before the increases are passed along to customers.”
Miller added that while labor has been in short supply in recent years, Epic has a team that has been with the company for a long time. “We have been lucky,” he said. “We try to do a good job of taking care of our people, and in turn they take care of the company.”
He said transportation has been another area of concern in recent years, but things have settled down a bit this year.
“Transportation was awful for a couple of years, and freight rates soared higher than anyone was ready for,” said Miller. “Rates have come down a bit this year, but the market is in need of additional experienced drivers, and the industry itself need to figure out how to attract some younger folks to get behind the wheel.