Growers see little market for potato storage facility
By JOHN O'CONNELL
The creators of a massive, inflatable potato cellar that recently hit the market promise their product will cut costs dramatically for growers in need of short-term storage while their spuds await processing.
Idaho growers, however, say the Airstore, designed to hold 900 tons of potatoes for up to eight weeks, could fall flat locally.
The storage facility was developed by three European companies, Preva Produce Ltd., Lamb Weston Meijer and Lindstrand Technologies Ltd. It's installed in modules, can be assembled by a group of four people and inflates in less than two hours, Preva's managing director Ian Anderson said in a press release.
Anderson told Capital Press American growers can purchase an Airstore through the U.S. manufacturing facility of Lindstrand Technologies.
"The store is fully functional and can replicate the requirements and capabilities of expensive permanent installations," Anderson said in the press release. "The cost savings generated are considerable with very favorable payback periods on the initial investment."
The product has a 20-year life expectancy and sells for just over $140,000. It has no trusses, wires or frames, and it's 22 meters long and 4 meters tall at its highest point.
Klaren Koompin, who grows potatoes for the processed market in the American Falls area, recalled the structures his father used to build in the 1960s for temporary potato storage. He made them of hay bales, stacked 10 feet tall with additional bales supported by old telephone poles serving as the roof.
His father's makeshift temporary storage facilities -- constructed when bumper crops filled the storage cellar with a surplus of spuds remaining to cover -- could hold about 15,000 potato sacks through December.
Nowadays, Koompin believes growers don't have as much difficulty finding storage.
"I think 15 years ago when acreage and yield was extremely variable they would have have been more important," Koompin said when asked to assess the viability of the Airstore. "In today's market, where acreage is designed to fit the demand not only on the processed but also on the fresh, I do not see that being an absolute necessity.
"It seems like there's always a cellar sitting empty somewhere a guy can go to. I don't see them springing up more than here or there in an isolated deal."
American Falls grower Jim Tiede, chairman of the Idaho Potato Commission, believes the product could fill a niche but doesn't foresee demand for inflatable cellars ballooning in Idaho.
"At face value I think it could be a lifesaver for some companies that have to put some crop under cover facing weather issues," said Tiede, who supplies for the processed market.
Tiede believes the structures could buy a bit of time for growers to better market their crops when storage is tight. Typically, however, he's found growers seem to find adequate storage.
On the fresh side, Travis Blacker, president of the Idaho Grower Shippers Association, noted growers need long-term storage facilities.
"I imagine people are going to be pretty wary of this thing until it proves itself," Blacker said.