Sunrain develops in-house spud seed production
By John O’Connell
IDAHO FALLS, Idaho — Officials with Sunrain Varieties LLC have acquired a large Eastern Idaho farm, built new greenhouses and broken ground on a storage and sorting facility, seeking to increase capacity and conduct more of their company’s sizable potato seed development program in-house.
Sunrain, a subsidiary of Potandon Produce involved in potato variety development and seed propagation, farmed all of its seed production out to local seed growers prior to last season, when it opened four greenhouses at its Idaho Falls headquarters for raising mini-tubers.
Sunrain had capacity in those greenhouses to meet more than half of its demand for mini-tubers, which are grown from potato tissue cultures and represent the first step in seed production.
Sunrain business manager Aron Derbidge said his company opened two additional greenhouses and a 25,000-hundredweight storage unit in July, enabling Sunrain to increase in-house mini-tuber production by another 40 percent. The first crop of mini-tubers is now being planted in the new greenhouses.
Derbidge said Eastern Idaho mini-tuber growers including Emma Atchley and Dirk Parkinson did an excellent job for Sunrain, but the new set-up is more appropriate for handling proprietary varieties.
“Where we work in these proprietary varieties, it’s very vital we have control of the entire process,” Derbidge said.
Sunrain also recently purchased a 1,600-acre farm in the Victor-Driggs area from an investment corporation. The company is raising seed from the nuclear generation — the first field-grown seed generation — through generation two on the farm, as well as on a 500-acre Utah farm where Sunrain is part of a joint venture.
Ground was recently broken on a large storage, sorting and grading facility at the Victor-Driggs site. Derbidge said the farm and sorting facility will be staffed by three to four full-time workers and 20 seasonal workers. He hopes the sorting facility will be open by next spring.
“This will be a significant step up in sorting,” Derbidge said. “We’ve had small capacity sorting lines, but nothing in comparison with what this facility will offer.”
Specialty potatoes — bred for Sunrain in Europe, Korea, South America and North America — comprise about 90 percent of the company’s business.
Derbidge said local seed growers including Parkinson, of St. Anthony, and Chad Neibaur, of Bancroft, will still be needed to help Sunrain raise generation three seed potatoes.
Neibaur said Sunrain has been an important client of his farm. He said 250 of 600 seed potato acres he’s planted this season are Potandon varieties. Neibaur said Sunrain’s varieties are high-yielding, setting about twice the tubers per plant as most conventional varieties. Furthermore, many derive from European germplasm, bred with potato virus Y resistance, and can withstand a disease that’s becoming increasingly prevalent in the U.S.
Derbidge said Sunrain will also continue sourcing a small percentage of its seed from Canada in case of a weather-related catastrophe in Eastern Idaho. Sunrain has invited the public to an open house on Aug. 13 to showcase capital improvements at its Idaho Falls headquarters, and new varieties. For more information, call (208) 522-3096, ext. 1007.