Skyline Potato taking wait-and-see approach to upcoming season
At Skyline Potato Co. in Center, CO, Les Alderete is not exactly sure what to expect as harvest nears for his russet potato crop.
“The pipeline is getting emptied out, so there is limited availability of old crop and new crop will be starting seven to 10 days late,” Alderete, general manager of Skyline, told The Produce News.
Alderete said the delay is due to weather, which has been overcast during the summer monsoon season. This, along with smoke from wild fires in New Mexico, has hampered sizing of the spuds. “We’re hoping for 40 percent over 10 ounces, but so far there hasn’t been much of that,” he said. “With Mother Nature, you get what you get.”
One advantage for Skyline is that it will be one of the early shippers in Colorado, and thus it can take advantage of a strong market driven by a dearth in supplies.
“I have a grower that plants early and kills early, so we usually have about a two to three week window at the beginning of the season,” said Alderete, who added that a typical harvest will kick off Sept. 1 and run until around Oct. 10.
“You want to have everything in by October 10 because after that you are at risk of a freeze,” he said.
Along with the anticipated late start and smaller sizing profile, Alderete said yields look like they will be down slightly from past years, though quality appears to be excellent.
“What we are seeing currently in the fields indicates we could be down around 5 percent on yields, depending on upcoming weather conditions,” he said. “We’re starting to dig right now, so we’ll have a better idea soon.”
Alderete said potatoes had something of a renaissance during the last two years due to the pandemic, and he sees that trend continuing for the foreseeable future.
“When people were staying home and cooking, potatoes were in high demand,” he said. “That is still the case, and especially now with inflation so high and a recession looming, potatoes are popular because they are considered to be an economic buy. But at the same time, the foodservice side has suffered and that has not come back yet.”
Aside from Mother Nature, Alderete said the high cost of production stands out as the major challenge Skyline is facing this year.
“We’ve seen all our costs go up,” he said. “Diesel is up 50 percent, fertilizer is up 40-50 percent, cartons and poly bags are up 35-45 percent, and labor is up as well, if you can even find it.”
He said that for the most part, customers have been understanding of the price increases he has had to pass along. “We are recouping some, but not all, of the costs,” said Alderete. “But we can’t keep absorbing everything.”
He added that transportation is another area that has been challenging this year.
“The transportation market has been a bit tight this summer, and while it has loosened up a bit, rates are still high,” said Alderete.
“For us, we concentrate on our strong regional markets, like the Southwest, Southeast, Midwest, Texas and Mexico. That allows us to keep transportation costs more in check.”