Mar 05 2012
Arrowhead Potato Co. to improve traceability of spuds from field to store
The Times-News (Idaho) - by Natalie Dicou
Soon every Arrowhead Potato Co. spud will be traceable not only to the farm on which it was grown, but to the very field from which it was pulled.
Arrowhead, owned since 2007 by Moss Produce, has received a $300,000 Value-Added Producer Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The relatively small potato-packing and -shipping company will use the bulk of the money to enhance its products’ traceability. That way, if there’s a health scare with potatoes (think: cantaloupe crisis of 2011), the problem can be contained without widespread recalls and financial devastation to the Idaho potato industry.
“This will allow us to continue to sell potatoes to markets that require a higher standard of quality of safety,” said Klade Williams, Arrowhead chief financial officer. “It will allow us to continue to be viable.”
Williams said the federal government may soon mandate fruits and vegetables be traceable. For example, the Produce Traceability Initiative has ambitious plans to make every case of produce electronically traceable by 2012.
“The bar keeps raising all the time,” said Ron Jones, Arrowhead general manager. “WhenIfirst started, as far as traceability, there was nothing. I mean, you bought a box of potatoes, and you had no idea where it came from.”
But in the past 10 years, food safety and security has become a huge health issue nationwide, Jones said, and Arrowhead isn’t waiting to be told to keep up.
“We’re trying to stay ahead of the curve,” said Williams, who wrote the grant request. “We’re being proactive and taking it on ourselves to figure out how to get this orchestrated.”
To stay ahead of health and safety standards, the Rupert company will need new traceability software, machinery, labels, training and more.
“It’s really expensive for us per unit because we don’t produce huge numbers here,” said Jones, noting Arrowhead has 48 full-time employees and ships potatoes for about 10 farms, including sister company Moss Produce. “So (the grant) is going to go a long way to help us get up and going on the (traceability) program.”
Arrowhead marketing specialist Richard Fletcher said potatoes haven’t had a lot of major problems in the past largely because they’re not a ready-to-eat food.
“The items that are really having the problems are items such as lettuce or strawberries or cantaloupe — anything like that where the cooking process isn’t involved,”Fletcher said.
Still, Arrowhead wants to do its part to safeguard the Idaho potato brand in case there is a health scare.
“We’re doing what we can to keep the industry clean,” Williams said.
Nationwide, 298 Value-Added Producer Grants of various sizes, totalling $40.2 million, were doled out to farmers in 44 states and Puerto Rico last month. Six were awarded to Idaho companies.
“These projects will provide financial returns and help create jobs for agricultural producers, businesses and families across the country,” Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan said in a statement.
The $300,000 isn’t free money. Companies must match any grant funds they spend 1-to-1, and the cash can’t be used to buy land or buildings. It must go toward promoting, marketing and enhancing their products to make them more valuable.
In addition to improving traceability of its products, Arrowhead will use the grant to develop a web page and buy advertising.
“It’s going to allow us to have more doors opened to us,” Williams said.