Idaho spud packers emphasize organic

Potandon Produce, based in Idaho Falls, Idaho, has launched a new line of organic potatoes, to be marketed under the new Potandon Produce label.

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho — Idaho fresh potato packers expect 2015 will be a big year for the growing organic spud category.

Officials with locally based Potandon Produce announced Feb. 24 their first produce line marketed under the Potandon Produce brand will feature 3-pound bags of organic russet, red and yellow potatoes.

Wada Farms, which has facilities in Idaho Falls and Pingree, has been sourcing organic spuds from other growing areas for several years but plans to start producing its own Idaho-grown organic potatoes this season.

Idaho Falls-based Eagle Eye Produce anticipates having its largest organic crop this season.

Ralph Schwartz, Potandon’s vice president of marketing, sales and innovation, said the organic sector has enjoyed double-digit growth for the past decade with “no real end in sight” and the new brand should help customers capitalize on the trend. The organic spuds will be sourced initially from growers in areas such as Washington, Colorado, Wisconsin and Canada, but not Idaho.

Schwartz said Potandon has packed organic spuds for customers’ private labels and had a Green Giant organic potato line years ago.

On the morning of Potandon’s announcement, Schwartz said three customers immediately committed to carry the product and “several others are waiting for details.”

Chris Wada, marketing director for Wada Farms, said his company intends to sell organic spuds in eco-friendly bags made of potato starch, called Tater Made.

“It will be a continuing trend and focus for us to grow our organic product offerings,” Wada said.

Eagle Eye Produce in Idaho Falls started packing organic russets six years ago and has gradually grown its organic business every year, said Lance Poole, the company’s vice president of sales. Poole said his company has a dedicated facility to handle organic spuds, and production costs are coming down as companies have developed better organic fertilizers and other inputs.

When Eagle Eye started in organic potatoes, Poole said, they could only store them for three months. With improved storage methods and technology, he said, Eagle Eye now stores organic spuds into June.

Poole said organic potatoes remain a niche market but “we’re seeing a lot of growth in the program.”

Eagle Eye has also sourced organic russets for Amy’s Kitchen, a producer of organic frozen meals opening a new plant in Pocatello, to test as an alternative for the chipping varieties it now uses in its recipes.

Buhl organic farmer Mike Heath said current prices for organic processing spuds are $12-$13 per hundredweight. That compares with the current conventional fresh market grower return of $5-$6 per hundredweight.

“I think it’s great we’re getting more people interested in organic right now,” Heath said. “The demand is outstripping supply for sure.”

According to United Fresh Produce Association, organic vegetable sales accounted for 10.2 percent of total vegetable sales during the third quarter of 2014, and organic sales volume was up 15 percent from the prior year.

“These are now big farms getting involved in the organic movement,” said Idaho Potato Commission President and CEO Frank Muir. “We think it’s an important part of a full portfolio of potato offerings.”

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