Cambridge Farms expects quality potatoes, transportation issues
When talking about this year’s Maine potato season, Ken Gad is more than optimistic about the quality of potatoes coming out of the state.
“The growers grew a nice crop as far as tonnage and quality,” said Gad, owner of Cambridge Farms Inc., based in South Easton, MA. “They didn’t have the same overly hot, overly dry season that you had out in Idaho and Washington — we’re not sitting with a crop that is 20 to 30 percent less than we should have.”
He added that storage facilities are full, or even over full, and that the quality of the potatoes is excellent.
Despite that promising news, the issue of transportation is presenting tremendous challenges for Maine’s potato growers, packers, and shippers, just as it is for the produce industry overall.
“We have a crop and there’s a lot to be said for that because we don’t have a crop out west,” Gad said. “What we are suffering from, and what everybody else is suffering from, and this is just the tip of the iceberg — nobody has transportation in this country.”
He added that it’s widely believed throughout the industry that transportation difficulties are a long-term problem, and that it’s time for leadership to address the challenges our nation is facing in terms of transportation and the supply chain.
“We have to stop worrying whose administration messed this up, we have to find a solution,” Gad said. “I don’t know what that solution is, but we have to find it, or the supply shortages are only going to get worse and worse.”
He further explained that businesses in both retail and foodservice sector are going to need to be proactive to keep their warehouses full.
“If you don’t carry that extra supply in your warehouse, you are going to get caught short, no way, no how are you going to avoid it,” Gad said. “If you order just on-time deliveries, if you order just exact allocations, you are going to run short. No one this season will be able to make perfect on-time deliveries for the next 52 weeks, it’s impossible.”
That regionalization has been a significant topic among Cambridge and its marketing partners over the last few years, and that the current transportation issues are furthering that talk. For example, eastern receivers that might generally pull their Russets from Idaho or Colorado might have to remain on the eastern seaboard for their supplies as part of the regionalization, looking to Canada or Maine to cut down on freight costs.
One thing Maine’s growers have in their favor is the quality of their potatoes, in white, yellow, and red varieties, plus Russets.
“Maine has been growing potatoes before Idaho ever thought of a potato,” Gad said. “They have a nice, solid growing season, they can get their crop in the ground in late April and early May, and their growing season goes through June, July, August. They never really get oppressively hot summers, they almost always get enough moisture one way or another, whether it’s through irrigation or naturally. Even during the summer, they get nice, cool evenings and warm enough days. The potatoes can grow and mature at a nice, even pace.”
That means after harvesting, matured potatoes are stored in facilities that are at 40 or 50 degrees in September because of Maine’s cool nights.