Potato co-op capitalizes on inspection reports
Online technology quickly informs growers of problems
By JOHN O'CONNELL
ABERDEEN, Idaho -- Nic Behrend will know instantly if too many of his potatoes prove to be green, bruised, undersized or damaged by dry rot during inspections at processing. He'll also be able to trace problems to specific fields.
Behrend, of Aberdeen, is among a small group of growers using new proprietary spreadsheet software developed for the Southern Idaho Potato Cooperative to electronically compile and analyze daily inspection certificates issued when the Idaho State Department of Agriculture grades spuds. So far, he's the only grower in the cooperative who has implemented a spreadsheet capable of rendering field-specific rather than just farm-specific data.
The software, developed over the past three years, enables SIPCO to use in-house statistics in its most recent contract negotiations with processors. SIPCO also opted to make the specialized spreadsheet available to members to track their individual farm data.
SIPCO Executive Director Dan Hargraves said his members were notified of the option a couple of weeks ago. He believes the spreadsheet will be especially useful to large producers who follow Behrend's lead and compare fields in different locations.
"As a co-op, the thought came up, why not offer this to our member growers to give them a competitive edge?" Hargraves said. "I haven't heard of anybody else doing that."
Growers who wish to have individually tailored accounts created must pay a fee to Curtis Long, of Rupert-based Magic Valley Technical Services, who developed the software.
To get the most out of the spreadsheet, Behrend tracks where spuds from each field are placed in his cellars in order to link them to inspection certificates.
"It creates a management tool to help a grower adjust things he can do," Behrend said. "It has a potential to be a really big tool for growers."
Long said the software can be set up to send alerts to growers' phones for a multitude of crop scenarios. For example, an alert that a high percentage of bruised spuds is coming from a certain field could help a grower discover an old machine needs replacing.
He said the cost to develop his software was about $50,000.
"The numbers they were telling me they could make or save far outweigh that number," said Long, who hopes to make a pitch to SIPCO's membership soon.
In Idaho, Hargraves said, the Simplot plant in Aberdeen, the Lamb Weston plant in American Falls and the McCain Foods plant in Burley now provide inspection certificates electronically, and the Simplot plant in Caldwell should come online soon.
Dale Lathim, executive director of Potato Growers of Washington, said his cooperative has maintained a daily record of growers' grades since 1993. For the past two years the cooperative has worked to make the database Web-based and available to growers. He doesn't plan to offer members access to that system in the near future, however.
"Right now, our growers have their own systems they're comfortable with and like," Lathim said.