This section is from the book "The Potato: A Compilation of Information from Every Available Source", by Eugene H. Grubb, W. S. Guilford. Also available from Amazon: The Potato: A Compilation Of Information From Every Available Source.
The average potato grower has not yet risen to the same plane as the best fruit men. Putting good ones on top is an old trick. It was common practice in Colorado a short time ago to put good potatoes at the bottom of the sack, fill the centre with the poorest, and put good ones on top. This was to fool the buyer if he opened the bottom instead of the top of the sack. The broker and dealer got around this by slitting the side of sacks for a sample. This led to the stovepipe method of filling. A few good potatoes would be placed in the bottom of a sack, a section of stove pipe inserted and the culls dropped in this, surrounding the pipe by good potatoes, withdrawing the pipe and filling the top with extras. Every kind of deception in marketing is poor business - and must sooner or later be stopped.
In some districts growers have formed associations and potatoes are marketed under a brand insuring quality. This will in time cause potatoes carrying this brand to command a premium.
Every employer of labor in potato work will find it hard to get men to be careful in sorting, no matter how strict the instructions. This was found to be the case at Mt. Sopris Farm, where a select trade has been built up by marketing potatoes on the same basis and method as the apple business at Hood River - upon honor. The fact that there has never been a complaint is an indication of how well the plan has succeeded. "Do not put a potato into a sack for market that you would not be proud to serve on your own table " - this is the instruction to the employees in the potato cellar that makes it most easy to accomplish the result.
A great many growers make a practice of planting their entire acreage to the same class of potatoes and marketing all at one time. For instance, it may be all Earlies, or second Earlies, or Later, and all marketed from the field - or in the case of the late crop, all held for the winter or spring trade.
A modification of this policy is suggested. This is to lengthen the planting, harvesting and marketing season by planting some acreage to an early variety or varieties; some to later sorts and the balance to late varieties. This makes it possible to do the work with less help at the "rush" time, keeping the fewer extra help required for a longer period. It makes it possible to market a portion of the crop from the field, saving rehandling. Some money is brought in early to pay the season's expenses. By reason of getting a part of the crop out of the way and off the farm early, the proportionate loss from shrinkage and possible loss in the storage cellar in the entire crop is lessened, while enough of the crop is carried over to get the benefit of possible high prices the coming spring. This plan has been adopted at Mt. Sopris Farm and is working out very satisfactorily.
The potato shrinks its greatest percentage during the first ten days after digging - probably 10 to 12 per cent. Potatoes clipped by the digger are usable at digging, while if put in the cellar they decay, and cause decay in the tubers with which they come in contact.
Greater economy in grading is possible in America. The common market requirement is to discard as culls, all potatoes that will not pass over a two-inch screen or riddle. In some places those passing through the screen are thrown away, not even being used for stock food. Some of these small potatoes are perfectly good for human food and should be put up in packages - graded to size and sold at a discount. They are quite as good as any for making soups and are all right baked. They can be easily and thoroughly cleaned with brushes. They do not require paring and can be used down to a size as small as one inch in diameter. Crops often run from 10 to 33 per cent. of potatoes under two inches in diameter, and the difference between profit and loss is contained in this part. The economy of the world's food supply seems to demand that they be utilized.
Potatoes that can be marketed at home, without incurring transportation, middlemen and retail expense, make the most net money for the grower. Local market places where seller and buyer could meet would be a benefit to both. The net price at the farm - after deducting charges above the cost of growing - often leaves the producer only 25 to 75 per cent. of the retail price. When a potato farm is a long distance from market or railroad shipping point and the roads are bad, the wagon haul is a large item of expense because of the great per acre weight of the crop.
Following are some interesting marketing ideas from "Farmers' Bulletin 386": "Potato Culture on Irrigated Farms of the West," by E. H. Grubb, transmitted December 30, 1909: "In deciding what kind of potatoes to plant, the grower should study the conditions and demands of the market. He should grow a medium-sized potato. On rich land the potatoes planted eight inches apart in the row will yield not only a great tonnage, but tubers of more desirable size. There are few markets, except in the South, that will pay a high price for large potatoes. Our methods of packing and marketing potatoes have been and are yet for the most part, more crude than those used with other products. By the time they get to the consumer they are more or less bruised or crushed. The writer has thought of crating potatoes and developing that idea in Denver and New York.
At the present time he favors a forty-pound crate. This size may be increased or decreased to suit the market. The grower should cater to the demands of the most particular and exacting consumers. He should try to educate the public to appreciate the delicacy of a first-class potato. The grower need not be afraid of freight bills if he can furnish better potatoes than anybody else. Hood River has a reputation for apples that makes them cost more to the consumer on the eastern market than the eastern apples by two or three times. This reputation was gained by packing apples that did not have an imperfect specimen in a car. Do not put in a package a potato that you would not serve to a guest at your own table."