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Cambridge Farms seeks strong Eastern Shore season

As a leading broker/shipper headquartered in South Easton, MA, with auxiliary offices in Presque Isle Maine and Nesconset, NY, Cambridge Farms is a major player in potatoes grown along the Eastern Shore, holding strategic partnerships and co-ops with institutions stretching from the Prince Edward Island Canada to the tip of Florida and over to Texas, Idaho, North Dakota, and California.

Ken Gad, president and chief executive officer of the 34-year-old company, said he continues to add grower partners to the business’ network who can bring more diverse packaging and product opportunities to customers.

“I see the Eastern Shore being about a week ahead of schedule from North Carolina all the way up through Delaware,” he said. “Growing conditions have been pretty good after a little bit of a late start. They’ve made up a lot of time and a lot of the testing has shown a nice size profile. We’re excited for that.”

Being a little early comes at an opportune time, because whites and yellows will most likely be in demand due to being a bit shorter around the country. Meanwhile, the reds will come on at the right time to supplement the Florida crop, resulting in a little overlap there.

“When you look at the rest of the country and what’s available, the only deterrent for farmers to get a good return will be what the retailers decide to do with the remaining Russets out west,” Gad said.

“If retailers continue to want to feature a higher-storage, Western potato, we’re not going to compete with that price point; we can’t,” he continued. “But if a retailer wants to feature a new, fresh, potato with some vibrancy — a bright yellow, a bright red, a bright white — then I think we’ll be able to get a good return for the farmer because the quality is going to be there and the quality is going to be there.”

The demand for whites on the Eastern Shore is high right now, since things get a little skewed with the reds coming out of Florida, Gad explained.

“This is the potato that can go and take on the Russets,” he said. “During the summer months, especially late July and August, the retailer wants to have that fresh-looking potato and that’s the white, supplemented with the red and yellow that we grow.”

One trend that Gad has been seeing growing for a while concerns the various offerings available, both with different sized packaging and what the consumer is seeking — creamers, steamable, fingerlings, etc.

“If you go back 10 years, you could buy maybe 10 different ways but if you walk in almost any store today there are about 16-18 different ways to buy potatoes,” he said.

“A lot more are being marketed. We’re growing the market, but moving less tonnage because we are feeding 1.5 pounds at a time instead of 5 pounds at a time in many cases,” he added.

Gad noted he’s not against innovation of small packaging, understanding there’s a niche for it, just as there is in the lettuce category, but he worries that it is leading to more overproducing in each region.

“Returns to the grower are less and less and that’s a big issue,” he said. “Somewhere along the line, one has to recognize that increasing acreage next year, when we haven’t moved this year’s acreage yet, doesn’t work.”