Dublin Farms Inc., a leader in the Virginia potato industry in Horntown that can trace its own roots back 150 years, has added the traceability of its product from harvest through the supply chain to its arsenal.
Matt Hickman, who represents the fifth generation in the farming family that started Dublin Farms in 1872, was put in charge of the traceability project over this past year.
“We wanted to modernize our operation,” he said. “We worked with the Farmsoft app and can now trace our product from a block in the field through the packing plant and out the door to the buyer’s warehouse.”
Hickman said that retail and foodservice buyers and their customers want to know where their food comes from. Dublin Farms has equipped its harvesting equipment with a laptop computer that pinpoints the 10-15-acre block from which each bin is loaded. A barcode is then generated which follows that bin through the packing process. Consequently, when a carton of potatoes is packed, warehoused and shipped to the buyer that barcode is included on both the carton and the pallet.
Potatoes are a low-risk food safety concern and, in fact, Hickman does not recall any food safety recall anywhere in the country for potatoes. “If there ever was a problem, we will be able to trace our potatoes back to that block,” he said, noting that Dublin Farms typically divides a 100-acre potato field into eight blocks.
While the initial impetus for adding the traceability feature was for peace of mind and because of customer interest, Hickman expects its main advantage will be creating data for the company itself. “The data will give us lots of insights on how each block performed, what was packed and what we sold,” he said.
Dublin Farms produces red, white and yellow potatoes on its various blocks and it is always trying new varieties and fertilizers to see what performs best. “Now, we will be able to pull up the data and determine, for example, if a particular biological application was worth it,” Hickman said. “Do we get better yields? What is our size profile? Is the extra cost worth it?”
Dublin Farms offers many different pack styles to its customers ranging from a three-pound retail-centric poly bag to a 2,000-pound bin used by processors. Foodservice operators typically take a 50-pound bag. Again, the data generated by the new traceability process will allow the company to drill down deep into its sales data to determine the profitability of each offering.
Hickman noted that for retail customers the five-pound bag has become the bag of choice. “We hardly ever sell any 10-pounders anymore. I think last year we did about three pallets for someone in the Philly market.”
David Hickman, Mark’s father and company vice president, noted that most of the company’s sales occur along the Eastern seaboard. “We sell from Miami to Montreal,” he said, adding that they have a good mix of customers including retailers, wholesalers, repackers and foodservice operators. “We also have a good buy local program which emphasizes Virginia Grown.”
This season, David Hickman expects Dublin Farms to start digging its potato crop between June 22 and 26. “We have had exceptional growing weather,” he said. “Our crop is in great shape. This year we are expecting to have about the same volume as last year, but with fewer whites and more reds and yellows.”