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Skyline stays the course for 2018 potato program

Expecting the 2017 storage crop to run well into the summer, Skyline Potato General Manager Les Alderete said in late April demand was good and prices have held steady so far in 2018. He said no major changes are planned for the conventional russet and organic russet and red program.skylinelesaldereteLes Alderete

“Our supplies will go through the end of July,” Alderete reported from his Center, CO, office. “The price has been steady, but demand has been a little slower than normal. We had a decent Thanksgiving, and Christmas was OK. There hasn’t been a huge pick up, but the price has held.”

Alderete said Mexico accounts for a good portion of Skyline’s business.

“Movement has been good to Mexico,” he said. “We do quite a bit of business there, and it’s been a good deal for us. Probably between 30 and 35 percent of our volume has gone there.”

When asked about trade talks between the U.S. and Mexican governments, he said, “I think NAFTA will affect crops such as avocados and leafy greens more than potatoes.”

Describing the 2017 crop as “manageable,” Alderete said there will be no major changes to the acreage or varieties grown and shipped by Skyline.

“Water is an issue in this area,” he said. “But our acres are pretty much the same right now. We’ll see what happens. Our organic program is doing very well. It’s stayed steady for the last 15 years. We have a window, and we stay in it.”

Alderete noted an overall increase in organic potato acres throughout Colorado’s San Luis Valley, and he noted, “There are other areas getting into organics for storage also. We’ll see how that affects us in the end.”

As the valley started planting the 2018 crop, Alderete said labor for both the field and the sheds remains tight. A minimum wage increase went into effect Jan. 1 in Colorado, raising the wage to $10.20 per hour. That cost, along with a diminished labor pool, has many farms and sheds looking at automation.

“We’ve been able to keep a year-round crew,” he said. “But we’re always on the look-out for workers. Labor is still a major problem, and we all have to become more efficient. It’s tough to find workers in this area, and we’re looking more at H-2A also. The shed is more affected, and we’re semi-automated now with palletizers. We still have people on the line grading.”

On the issue of transportation, Alderete said trucks had started to loosen up in January, but rates are averaging 25-30 percent higher than a year ago.

“They just don’t have the drivers,” he said. “I think rates are going to stay up.”