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Skyline Potato shifts from ’20 to ’21 without pause

By
Kathleen Thomas Gaspar

As the last of 2020’s big potato crop was being shipped during the last weeks of August, Skyline Potato Co. in Center, CO, was looking to start harvesting the 2021 spuds and continue shipping without missing a beat.

skyline
Les Alderete

“It looks like we’ll keep going without shutting the shed down,” Skyline General Manager Les Alderete said. “We’re just finishing up last season, and harvest will start the last week of August.” He added that the big volume of 2021’s spuds will start coming in a week or two later than that as growers wait for the potatoes to size more.

“Weather slowed us down some this year,” Alderete said of his San Luis Valley operation. “We had a lot of cloud cover during the monsoon season, and we also had some hail in the region. So, the majority of our harvest will be delayed.”

Skyline will run Russets only in 2021, he said, and he said the company has tabled its organic program “for the time being.”

Commenting that 2020 had been a solid year overall and the quality had held well in storage, Alderete went on to say the effects of COVID-19 and other industry issues continue to unfold as this year progresses.

Skyline was a participant in the Farmers to Families Food Box Program in 2020, and Alderete said that USDA move was “really good for the first three rounds.” He said, “It kept sheds and growers alive, and even though it did have some hiccups, it was a quick remedy that was well done.”

In coping with the pandemic and maintaining the flow of business, Skyline adhered to COVID-19 protocols such as social distancing and increasing the number of hand sanitizer stations. Alderete said, “And of course we’re cleaning more frequently and have extra cleaning crews for that. We also have an air sanitization system in the shed, and we’re training crews more on sanitation also.”

Possibly due in part to COVID-19 and assuredly due to increases in freight costs, Skyline has seen additional markets open up over the past year, Alderete said. “We’re seeing a bigger pull on regional demand, and we believe that will continue to increase. We’re going more into the Southwest and Southeast now.”

Mexico, which has long been a big market for Colorado potato shippers, remains a major part of Skyline’s business. “With the new ruling in the United States/Mexico/Canada Agreement the whole country of Mexico is supposed to open,” he said. For many years U.S. potatoes were held to a 26-kilomenter distribution area in that country, and Alderete said it remains to be seen how commerce will open. “CONPAPA, the Mexican potato cartel, is the grower organization that is helping that country’s department of ag write up procedures for inspection of imports.”

Skyline has also been dealing with the ongoing labor issue, and Alderete said, “It’s still very tight. We’re always looking at ways to automate. It’s hard to find workers, and growers and sheds struggle to find crews.”

Transportation, he said, is also still very tight and increasingly expensive. “It just continues to go up. All inputs are increasing, and since January everything has gone up. Fuel has doubled, and there are very tight truck markets. There’s a shortage of drivers, too. That’s why we’re seeing more regional demand.”

Shortages are also being seen in pallets, and Alderete said, “That’s loosened up a bit in the last few weeks, but it’s a problem. With cartons, we’re getting them, but the run dates have been pushed back possibly because of labor and transportation and just the companies being overrun with orders.”

The longtime Colorado potato man remains optimistic about the new season as a whole while noting that the size profile and yields of this year’s crop could be off somewhat.

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