Gumz Farms relying on more automation
Brothers Roderick and Richard Gumz lead Gumz Farms, following in the footsteps of four generations of their family in the potato and onion biz, and keeping the strong legacy of the company alive.
The company grows red and yellow potatoes, grows and sources yellow, white, red and sweet onions and packs and ships year-round. Currently, Gumz Farms handles nearly 20 percent of the fresh-market red potatoes in the state and grows approximately 40 percent of Wisconsin onions.
“With potatoes, we grow about 1,000 acres of reds and yellows and we ship year-round to different regions,” said Roderick Gumz, co-owner of the Endeavor, WI-based company. “We have good ground to grow them in, the climate is good and our location helps us as well. We’re close to some of the bigger cities, which makes transportation easier, and that sure helps us.”
Unless an unforeseen weather event occurs soon, the company is expecting a strong potato crop for the upcoming season.
“Things are looking good and the market looks like it will be pretty decent,” Gumz said. “We just started into our crop about [Aug. 15], and we are getting going slowly. But we all expect a good season overall. We had a dry summer, but dry is a good thing for the crop.”
The current trend seems to be favoring yellows, which may be due to the fact that there’s less Russet potatoes around, but Gumz has noticed a higher demand for yellows as they are gaining more space on the retail shelves.
“Locally grown seems to be more important to people and I think that’s important for retailers,” he said.
In 2022, Gumz Farms beefed up its storage capacity for onions and put in some automation to help increase business for both onions and potatoes.
“We added an auto-grader on the onion side and put another baler on the potato side, just trying to maximize the technology that’s available,” Gumz said. “We are constantly looking forward to what can minimize our labor, as that seems to be our biggest issue. Anytime you can automate, it just makes sense.”
The challenge with adding equipment is finding all the components to make it happen, even simple things like motors, drives and other parts that aren’t regularly available these days.
“The plants are at capacity and we’re looking out a year or more of things like packing materials, bearings, sprockets and all the stuff that’s necessary to farm,” Gumz said.
Gumz Farms works with a number of big-box retailers and tries to do as much with consumer packs as it can.
“We have widened our customer base a bit since the pandemic,” Gumz said. “We are trying to grow every year and do more every year. We’ve been pretty lucky and successful at it.”
These days, business is much more retail than foodservice, a change over the last 5-10 years.
“A key to success is having good quality and working with the right people,” Gumz said. “And having the ability to run 365 days a year. That’s what’s helped us.”
Gumz also credits the entire company team with helping to keep Gumz Farms strong and he is proud that many of the employees have been a part of the company for a long time.