Building On Success In Potato Industry

Building On Success

Selling fresh produce has been a part of Vic and Chris Anthony’s life for years. For the past 45 years, this couple from Wisconsin has been selling vegetables directly to retail food stores. Their farming operation, however, began 30 years ago.

“We used to buy and sell potatoes from other growers,” explains Chris. “Then we built a packingshed to address customers’ needs. In order to ensure an adequate supply and the quality of the produce, we started farming ourselves.”

The Anthonys grow, pack, and ship Wisconsin potatoes. They also grow canning beans, sweet corn, and alfalfa. The operation includes a 5,000 acre farm, year-round potato storage facilities, a grading and packaging plant, sales and marketing office, and a long-distance trucking company.

This farm’s successful marketing techniques and its ability to put the latest technology to good use are just a couple of examples why Anthony Farms is the 2007 Grower Achievement Award winner.

In The Beginning

When the Anthonys first became growers, they planted on 260 acres. Their operation grew as the demands of their customers grew. “We were able to do the marketing and expand our operation,” says Chris.

One of their goals with the farm was to take good care of the land. “The Lord has made this land available for us to use,” says Vic. “We want to leave this soil in better condition than when we purchased it. This is one reason we have been supportive of the Wisconsin Healthy Grown program. Anthony Farms wants to grow the best quality produce. Over the years, we have changed how we farm. We follow Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices, which means only giving the crops what they can use.”

The Healthy Grown program was started more than 10 years ago. It was developed through a collaborative effort by the Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association (WPVGA), World Wildlife Fund, the University of Wisconsin, and other conservation groups. One of the major achievements of this collaboration was reducing the overall toxicity levels of crop inputs by using natural and softer products.

Anthony Farms has been a part of the Healthy Grown program since the mid-1990s. To be a part of this program, Vic says growers need to follow strict farming practices and standards. The farm and the packaging facility are audited every year.

And not just any potato packingshed can pack Healthy Grown potatoes, he continues. The Anthonys must keep the Healthy Grown potatoes in separate storage and separate them on the packingline, if they want the potatoes to be certified.

Because these potatoes have been produced following specific guidelines considered to be better for the soil and the environment, and growers want to draw attention to this fact, Healthy Grown potatoes are packaged in colorful bags and bins. Anthony Farms has recently developed a tray pack to house these potatoes. Because Healthy Grown is synonymous with being environmentally friendly, the tray pack is biodegradable.

Marketing To Consumers

To let consumers know the value of the Healthy Grown program, as well as Wisconsin potatoes, the Anthonys have made marketing a priority. Chris has been involved with the United States Potato Board (USPB) and WPVGA for many years.

In the past five years, Anthony Farms has redesigned its fresh potato packages using information and recommendations from USPB. “If you look at the traditional potato package, it had little information for the consumer, other than nutrition information,” says Chris. “The package didn’t explain how to store the potatoes or what are the best ways to use them.”

With Chris working on the redesign, all that changed. In addition to including storage and cooking instructions, recipes also were incorporated into the new packaging. The Anthonys also saw the need for a bilingual (Spanish/English) potato package, as the Hispanic population in the markets they serve has rapidly grown.

Collaborating with other potato growers and marketers, Chris led a group of Wisconsin fresh potato marketers that designed the Wisconsin Skinny Potato Bin. This colorful bin includes graphics and potato nutrition information, and serves as an in-store billboard promoting fresh potatoes.

The project was awarded the 2005 Produce Business Marketing Excellence Award. “The beautiful thing about this project is that competitors worked together for a common cause: to promote fresh Wisconsin potatoes,” adds Chris.

The Anthonys involvement in potato promotion doesn’t end there. The business has been a leader and a category partner in USBP’s Best in Class program. This program was designed to implement and test best practices in the areas of merchandising, assortment, pricing, promotion, and packaging. Additionally, the Anthonys have been instrumental in bringing the Best in Class and category management training to the shippers in Wisconsin.

Food Quality And Safety

Food safety also is a high priority at Anthony Farms. According to Vic, they have participated in food safety programs since 1991. The operation now has four different food safety audits each year: PrimusLabs.com, AIB International, Protected Harvest (for the Healthy Grown label), and USDA.

Leading The Way

The Anthonys and their team aren’t about to take a back seat in any aspect of the industry, especially when it comes to finding new ways to move forward. Some of their activities include:

Chris Anthony: Current chairperson of the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association’s (WPVGA) Potato Promotion and Consumer Education Committee; member of the United Potato Growers of Wisconsin Board of Directors; seven years on the Board Executive Committee of the United States Potato Board; co-chairman of the Planning Committee for the Potato Industry Leadership program.

Vic Anthony: Started the Wisconsin Marketing Program in 1979; state representative to the National Potato Council; founding member of the WPVGA.

Mike Hayes: Plant manager; a graduate of the Potato Industry Leadership Institute.
Tom Prasalowicz: Farm manager; received Bachelor of Science in Agribusiness, University of Wisconsin-River Falls.

Greg Zdroik: Head salesman; a graduate of the Wisconsin Potato Industry Leadership Institute.

“With the Food Security Act, we’ve been very proactive in record keeping and traceback,” says Vic. “We inspect incoming transportation units to make sure they meet our standards. We also inspect and seal all the outgoing trailers so the customers know if the trailer has been tampered with.”

With a traceback program in place, the Anthonys can trace produce, as well as fertilizers and crop inputs, back to the fields on which they were grown or applied. “We use a pallet tag system and have a permanent record of the entire history of the field and the product,” he adds.

Innovative Technology

Anthony Farms has not only been a major promoter of the Wisconsin potato and the Healthy Grown program, it also has adopted several innovative practices that help improve water and soil management.

In addition to using computer programs for traceback and to record crop history, the farm uses computers to keep track of irrigation schedules. “Our irrigation systems can be monitored from the farm office or the manager’s laptop,” says farm manager Tom Prasalowicz. “This program allows us to track the status of the systems. Our farm encompasses a vast area and the computer monitoring allows us to monitor the systems without traveling to every field.”

Another innovative task the Anthonys tackled involved improving the soil. “One of our goals is to improve the natural soil fertility,” explains Prasalowicz. “At Anthony Farms, we have been able to do this with our own mix of fish, kelp, molasses, and humic acid that is applied to fields via irrigation pivots. With this solution, the beneficial soil components thrive and increase, more nitrogen is made available naturally to the crops, and less artificial nitrogen is needed.”

Positive Influence

The Anthonys also thrive on helping those less fortunate and are involved in many community organizations. “Our philosophy is that we have been very blessed with success, and we want to give back to the community in which we live and work,” says Chris. Although they are humble about it, Chris and Vic donate fresh potatoes to the local food pantry year round, and at Christmas, they donate potatoes and other produce to a large Christmas gift basket program.

“I have a passion for promoting potatoes,” says Chris. “I’m known as the ‘potato lady.’” She also has worked with local elementary schools to organize a fresh potato promotion as part of the school lunch and fitness programs.

Plans For The Future

Vic and Chris Anthony haven’t just been raising and promoting potatoes all these years. They also raised three grown daughters: Karen, Katie, and Carol. As of right now, the girls do not have plans to take over the farm, but Chris says that can change. Even if it doesn’t change, she says the farming operation will continue after she and Vic retire.

“Because our farm isn’t located in an urban area, I don’t see it being sold for development,” she says. “We’ve got a wonderful group of dedicated employees and we’d like to see what we built continue in one form or another. I do believe that it will remain as a farm. Will it stay the same? I don’t think so. It isn’t the same operation it was when it was started. Change is inevitable.”

About The Award

Growers, researchers, vegetable associations, and allied industry members from across the country were solicited for nominations for the 2007 Grower Achievement Award. The award is presented annually by American Vegetable Grower, and is sponsored by Syngenta Seeds/ROGERS brand, in cooperation with United Fresh Produce Association. Nominees were evaluated based on an operation’s achievements in several areas: consumer-oriented marketing, innovative technology, food safety and quality, industry leadership, and an overall spirit of achievement.

This year’s nominations were evaluated by a panel of judges representing a cross-section of the U.S. vegetableindustry including:

â–  Dr. Michael Orzolek, Professor of Vegetable Crops, The Pennsylvania State University, member of American Vegetable Grower’s Editorial Advisory Board

â–  Steven Koike, Plant Pathologist and Farm Adviser, University of California Cooperative Extension; member of American Vegetable Grower’s Editorial Advisory Board

â–  Alain Pincot, Operations Manager at Betteravia Farms, winner of the 2003 Grower Achievement Award.

â–  Dan Burdett, Head of Vegetables, NAFTA, Syngenta Seeds/ROGERS Brand

â–  Rose Reifsnyder, Marketing Communications Manager, Syngenta Seeds/ROGERS Brand

â–  Jerry Welcome, Executive Vice President Business Development, United Fresh Produce Association

â–  Brian Sparks, Group Editor, American Vegetable Grower Magazine

â–  Rosemary Gordon, Senior Managing Editor, American Vegetable Grower Magazine

The 2007 Grower Achievement Award will be presented to Anthony Farms during United Fresh’s Public Policy Conference on Sept. 13 in Washington, DC.

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