Potatoes: One of COVID’s Hot Commodities
In a typical year, Kittleson Brothers sells around five tons of potatoes per week to grocery stores in northern Iowa and southern Minnesota. The week of March 16, they experienced first-hand the increased consumer demand amid Iowa and Minnesota’s response to COVID-19. Their sales exploded to more than eight times their typical demand – increasing to nearly 40 tons.
Steve (’04 ag business) and Beth (’04 ag and life sciences education) Rachut, co-operate Kittleson Brothers, a potato and onion packing facility, with co-owner John Kittleson, near St. Ansgar. The couple also farms raising cattle and producing potatoes, onions, corn, soybeans and sweet corn.
“Kittlesons opens at 7:30 a.m. – as soon as we opened the doors, the phone started ringing with updated quantity requests from our grocery stores and individuals started walking in to purchase the 50 pound bags of potatoes we have available for sale on-site,” says Beth.
Prepping potatoes for retail sale is a time consuming process, which includes sorting and washing the product twice before drying and bagging.
“We were overrun and for the first time ever, and had to call in an additional crew to help,” says Steve.
Kittleson Brothers is a farm to table growing and packing operation. The Rachuts exclusively grow all the potatoes and onions packed and distributed through the facility. Their potatoes are sold at community grocery stores as well as Hy-Vee and Fareway stores in northern Iowa and southern Minnesota, along with a handful of local restaurants. Onions are sold exclusively to Wal-Mart, where they are bagged and redistributed.
“With such dramatic increases in demand, transportation of product has been an issue. Perishable products have been especially challenging. Local farmers have been critical over the past several weeks. It’s pretty hard for me to get potatoes from California or Idaho right now, but Kittleson’s is under 100 miles away. Theoretically, customers could serve potatoes at their dinner table that were delivered straight from the farm that morning, ” says Rob Green, produce manager for the Hy-Vee Crossroads in Waterloo, Iowa.
The Rachuts are community-minded in their approach to business and life. In addition to farming and co-operating Kittleson Brothers, Beth serves as president of the Mitchell County Farm Bureau board of directors. Steve serves on the board of directors for the Osage Cooperative Elevator. Their local sweet corn operation regularly donates product to local food banks and fundraisers.
“Through all of this, we’re just trying to feed people who need to be fed. That’s the goal of the American farmer,” says Steve.