Organic Wisconsin potatoes pick up some steam

Organic Wisconsin potatoes pick up some steam

Not everybody grows or handles organic potatoes in Wisconsin, but those who do say it’s a worthwhile category.

Friesland, Wis.-based Alsum Farms & Produce Inc. was getting set to harvest its first organic reds, said Christine Lindner, national sales with the grower-shipper.

“Organics continue to be a growing category at retail,” she said. 

New-crop organic Wisconsin red potatoes harvest were set to get underway as early as Aug. 8, with russets and golds following Aug. 12, she said.

Alsum’s organic program has shown steady — even dramatic — growth, Lindner said.

“We started our organics program in 2000, and volume and sales dollars have doubled in the last five years,” she said. “Millennials are an audience that continues to redefine and embrace the organic potato category.”

Rosholt, Wis.-based grower-shipper Bushmans’ Inc. also is involved in organic potatoes, said Mike Carter, president.

“We sell them but don’t grow them; we have some really good partners that are very good at it,” he said.

There’s a definite advantage to having organic potatoes, Carter said.

“There is a segment of the consumer populations that believe in it and are willing to spend a little more to buy it,” he said. 

“And it costs more because it costs more to grow. Yields are down because you don’t have the same available inputs. But our customers like that, so we absolutely provide it for them.”

There don’t seem to be any growers getting into organics, but those who already are involved seem to be deepening their commitments to the category, said Samantha Cypher, editorial and publicity specialist with Bancroft, Wis.-based grower-shipper RPE Inc.

“All indications suggest organic acreage is level throughout the country,” she said. “In some cases, growers with established and developing programs are adding acreage.”

The challenges are many and keep some growers out of the organic category, said Dick Okray, president of Plover, Wis.-based Okray Family Farms Inc.

“We’re shying away from that, at least for now; it’s tough,” he said. 

Okray Family Farms does, perhaps, the next best thing to organic, Okray said.

“What we do grow in Wisconsin in kind of abundance is a under the Healthy Grown methodology; it gets kind of close to that,” he said.

Antigo, Wis.-based Farmers Potato Exchange Inc. is involved in organic potatoes on a “limited” basis, said Dave Cofer, president.

“One of my growers has some organic, but it’s a limited deal for us,” he said. “It seems to be a little bit of a growing market and we may get into it a little bit.” 

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