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Worley and McCullough benefit from new line

A new line installed in 2016 at Worley & McCullough Inc. has resulted in significantly increased efficiency, according to W&M’s Erin Hatton, vice president and daughter of company head Jim McCullough.

“We’re developing a new set of skills with the new machinery,” Hatton said in mid-August, just days away from the projected season onset of Aug. 21.worleymcculloughvines-cropped

“We’ll start with our early fields then,” Hatton said, adding that full harvest was expected to kick off Sept. 5.

The all-russet production hit 1.2 million cwt last year, and Hatton said, “Every year we’re increasing, and hopefully that trend will continue.”

Wada Farms Marketing in Idaho Falls handles domestic sales. Michele Peterson, a longtime San Luis Valley potato sales person, is a Wada representative and handles the sales both domestically and to Mexico.

Jim McCullough grows about 60 percent of the operation’s total volume, with Mitchell Ag Production the second-largest grower in a group of five.

“The crop is looking great,” Hatton said, adding that farmers were starting to kill the vines on “a good percentage” of the W&M fields.

The upgrades have resulted in increased efficiency, Hatton said, “We had 50 people working on the line last season. The old line had 80.” Capacity was increased by 35 percent during peak season, she added. Automated palletizers have contributed much to the efficiency.

“Any time you do something new, there’s a learning curve, and we’re learning as we go. But our efficiency is increasing every day,” Hatton said.

“Rising input costs and the difficulty in finding labor is bringing more automation to the industry,” she said. “During the upcoming year we will be looking closely at costs and where the savings are and how we can become even more efficient.”

She commented on Colorado’s rising minimum wage, which is currently $9.30 and will increase by 90 cents annually until it reaches $12 in 2020.

“The hardest part is competing with other production areas that have a lower minimum wage but which have the same commodity pricing,” Hatton said. “We can’t necessarily pass our costs on. The market determines pricing.”

Wearing multiple hats at the office—which was rebuilt in late 2016 and now provides more accessibility and flow among departments—Hatton, also handles food safety and human resources. The dual positions were lightened some from May through mid-August by two interns who hail from the area but are attending college elsewhere.

“Nikita Christensen is a senior at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, and Tanner Coombs is a junior at Brigham Young University. Tanner is a business management major with an interest in Human Resource Management, and Nikita is an Ag Business major. They were both able to gain a lot of experience while they were here, and they worked together on an efficiency project that involved the entire shed,” Hatton said. “They’re two very driven individuals that were excited to experience business practices in the real world. They were very punctual and were always willing to stay late when needed.”

Borrowing from the students’ enthusiasm, Hatton said she’s optimistic about the future of the potato industry and about the San Luis Valley as well.”