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Cambridge anticipates good Eastern Shore potato deal

By
Tim Linden

Cambridge Farms, which is headquartered in South Easton, MA, but has potato deals throughout the East Coast, is looking forward to an excellent Eastern Shore potato harvest when digging begins in mid-June.

“We are excited about the Eastern Shore deal. Our tests show that we are going to have excellent quality and good volume,” said Ken Gad, president of the company. “We expect to get going roughly around June 12 with a great crop and an orderly marketing situation.”

For the 2023 season, Gad said Cambridge Farms Eastern Shore production will see an increase in its Russet acreage, a decrease in its red potato volume while its yellow and white acreage have been maintained at the same level as last year.

“Cambridge Farms has had a physical presence and has been marketing Eastern Shore potatoes for many decades,” he said. “Our relationships with our grower partners are stronger here than in any other region. We are proud and humbled to have the respect and appreciation of both our grower partners and our retail partners. The bottom line is we are partners on both sides of the equation, and we need to be partners to produce good, quality products and to get a fair price for the growers and the retailers.”

He noted that the past year has been a good one for the producer community and for the most part, growers are reinvesting their profits to improve their equipment in all aspects of their business from the field to the packing and storage sheds. “We’ve seen new automatic graders, new harvesting equipment and new tractors. Growers are reinvesting to improve what they produce,” he said.

Gad expects good marketing conditions to continue until at least the fall of 2024. He reasoned that potato production goes through a fairly predictable cycle. A year in which supplies are down — which occurred several years ago — compounds the situation the following year and it typically takes several years to catch back up. He explained that when volume is down, there are also fewer seed potatoes for the next season’s planting. Hence the next year’s crop is also down. “We are in one of those cycles,” he said. “We expect prices will be above the new normal for the rest of this marketing year.”

Gad said excellent yields this season will help the seed potato supply for the acreage that will be planted next spring for the summer/fall harvest of 2024. “I don’t expect there to be cheap potatoes on the retail shelf for at least another year,” he said, adding that a retail promotional price of about $3.99 for a five-pound bag is the new normal.

In continuing to analyze this year’s marketing situation, Gad expects more retailers and steakhouses that love to feature jumbo potatoes to drop their specifications a size or two. “There are not going to be a lot of 60-count Russets for sale,” he said. “Some of these buyers are going to have to settle for an 80-count.”

Gad, who has been participating in and observing the marketing of potatoes for four decades, said it is this adjustment in sizes that will stretch the supplies and keep the orderly marketing situation that he expects. “The country never runs out of Russet potatoes,” he said. “We just have to make size adjustments. It’s true that we are going to be short of large sizes and count cartons are going to be tight and pricey, but there will be plenty of reds, whites and yellows when all is said and done.”

Gad said a couple of other factors will also put smiles on the faces of potato growers. “Costs are down. Fertilizer is way down, so is fuel. Labor costs stayed up, and you’re not going to get a break on your next John Deere, but overall costs did come down a little bit,” he said. “Growers should be able to get a fair return.”

Tim Linden

Tim Linden

About Tim Linden  |  email

Tim Linden grew up in a produce family as both his father and grandfather spent their business careers on the wholesale terminal markets in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Tim graduated from San Diego State University in 1974 with a degree in journalism. Shortly thereafter he began his career at The Packer where he stayed for eight years, leaving in 1983 to join Western Growers as editor of its monthly magazine. In 1986, Tim launched Champ Publishing as an agricultural publishing specialty company.

Today he is a contract publisher for several trade associations and writes extensively on all aspects of the produce business. He began writing for The Produce News in 1997, and currently wears the title of Editor at Large.

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