Ron Budd looking forward to New Jersey potato season

ronbudd Rob Budd, vice president of Gloucester County Packing Corp., is looking forward to handling New Jersey potatoes, which should be harvested perhaps a week later than normal, depending on the weather over the next few weeks and months.

“We actually got an early start planting compared to normal,” Budd told The Produce News Tuesday afternoon, May 5.

“The first potatoes were planted on March 18, which is about two weeks earlier than normal,” he said. “The temperatures were indicative of planting, and the soil conditions were just right.”

However, he added, “Since then we’ve had some cooler and damper conditions than normal, and planting is hopefully going to wrap up this week. So the planting has been staggered mainly due to weather conditions -— which is not a horrible thing. It’s not normal, but we don’t harvest all the potatoes at the same time, so they don’t have to be planted at the same time.”

Asked to estimate when the harvests would begin this year, Budd replied, “The early plants are just starting to emerge now, and that puts us probably about one week behind our normal start dates. [But] it’s still early, and this crop can make up some time if we get some warm weather. So my best guess is the red and white varieties will start sometime between July 15-20, the yellows July 20 and russets August 10.”

On the topic of potato acreage, Budd noted, “Our acreage remains pretty consistent, right around 2,000 acres in the state of New Jersey. And that hasn’t changed too much over the last few years.”

Gloucester County Packing Corp., headquartered in Woodbury, NJ, does not grow any product itself, but its 45,000-square-foot facility packs, distributes and handles potatoes and onions from all over the United States and beyond.

In the spring, however, its focus turns to potatoes from its home state.

“We’ll be promoting the Jersey Fresh potato program again this year with the similar theme of Know Your Food, Know Your Farmer, putting a place and a face with the potatoes that you’re buying,” he said.

That well-received program continues to take advantage of the desire by consumers for locally grown product.

“The Jersey Fresh program is very well recognized,” he stated. “A lot of retailers do promotions in the early summer, and we’ll be one of the Jersey Fresh commodities that are available.”

In addition to potatoes, Gloucester County Packing Corp. has an imported sweet onion deal.

“Peruvian onions run generally from August through February, then Mexico and Texas in March and April,” said Budd. “That’s still a key portion of our over all business here.”

He added, “We’ve gotten a little bit into shallots,” which are imported from France. The company also is handling beets and garlic from France as well as horseradish from Hungary.

“My brother Bob, my nephew David and myself oversee the repack operation,” he noted. “My father, Dave, still looks after the processing side.”

Asked about the COVID-19 situation, Budd said, “We take one day at a time. My brother has spent numerous hours learning about the virus and implementing a plan to minimize the exposure to all the employees here. He’s put together a pretty good manual.

The company is following all the federal and state guidelines, “and the local department of health has even given us some guidance on packaging of fresh fruits and vegetables as well,” he said. “All the employees in the office and the warehouse are wearing masks. They’ve been very good about that.”

Photo: Ron Budd of Gloucester County Packing Corp.

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