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Skyline Potato Co. expects 2020 volume to run into August

By
Kathleen Thomas Gaspar

Noting that “there are still a lot of potatoes out there,” Skyline Potato Co. General Manager Les Alderete said his Center, CO, shed will ship the remainder of its 2020 crop into August this year.

He added, “We have quite a bit left, and we think we’ll go the first two weeks into August, about a week or so longer than normal if demand keeps up.”

Alderete told The Produce News in late April the new crop, which is planted during May, is planned for a traditional start around Labor Day, giving the operation two weeks to make upgrades to the shed.

The 2020 crop, Alderete said, has met with mostly a steady market, and one of the silver linings to the COVID-19 pandemic was the Farmers to Families Food Box Program, which the USDA recently discontinued. The alternative program being implemented by the government is The Emergency Food Assistance Program, or TEFAP, which will also involve produce and lists fresh potatoes among the items that will be available for those in need.

“The Food Box worked out well during the pandemic,” Alderete said. “It was very efficient, and in the short time they had to put it together, it was a good thing.”

He noted that business did slow during the onset of the pandemic, but the retail side overall remained strong. For Colorado, which grows primarily for the retail sector, Mexico maintained its standing as a stable market during the COVID-19 year. Skyline and many other San Luis Valley shippers have a longstanding customer base in that country, with about 20-25 percent of the Valley’s volume going to its retail market.

He said Skyline’s Mexico export numbers reflect those of the region.

“COVID-19 had minimal impact for Colorado potatoes because we’re mostly geared to retail,” he said. “Another plus is that people have started cooking at home more. Over the last 10 or 15 years Russet demand had slipped, and the pandemic actually boosted it.” 

There were aspects of COVID-19, such as implementing protocol, that industry as a whole and Skyline as a company has worked through. Additionally, there have been ongoing and increasingly serious transportation and labor problems.

“Freight has been difficult,” Alderete said. “It’s a struggle to find trucks every day. We can’t find drivers, and some independents are going to spot market. With fuel prices going up, that will only make it worse, and I don’t see an end to it.”

He explained that older drivers have left the trucking industry, and the career option is “not pulling younger drivers in. There’s not enough money in it for them.”

Labor is also “a struggle,” Alderete said. “That’s not going to go away. It’s going to be a major issue going forward. If the government could reform H-2A, it would be good.”

Looking at the 2021 crop plans, Alderete said Skyline will stick with its tried-and-true russet varieties of Norkotah, Centennial and Canela. A decision is in the offing regarding the continuation of its organic program, and he said that will be made prior to planting.

“We are still shipping our 2020-21 organics, and we’ll ship into the first week of May,” he said on April 26. “Then we will evaluate it and see if we’re going to continue.”

Photo: Skyline Potato Co. General Manager Les Alderete said his operation has seen steady retail movement during the 2020-21 shipping season. Photo courtesy of Skyline Potato Co.

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