Associated Potato Growers Inc.
In 1947, a group of local potato growers got together in Grand Forks, N.D., to form a lasting alliance. Together, they formed Associated Potato Growers Inc. (APG), a cooperative that would offer regional agriculture a market boost for decades to come. Over the years, the cooperative has grown significantly. In 1961, the group built a processing plant in Grafton, N.D., making a second location. More recently, the cooperative acquired a third location in Dayton, N.D.
APG is the most significant potato cooperative in the Red River Valley, which stretches between North Dakota, Minnesota and Manitoba, Canada. The Red River of the North feeds the fertile region, providing quality soils and accessible water for a large agricultural industry. While the river takes care of the land, APG takes care of the growers, putting several varieties of potatoes to market throughout the Eastern United States.
A strong team
Paul Dolan serves as the cooperative’s general manager. He grew up in agriculture, farming from the time he was born up until 1991. “We went through a major drought in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s,” he explains. “I decided it was time to get out of the farming industry. I had been on the board for many years and I grew potatoes for APG on the farm I owned with my three brothers. In 1994, I went to work for the cooperative full-time.” Dolan became general manager in 1995.
Now, Dolan leads a team of approximately 25 full-time employees; however, the staff rises to an estimated 70 during the busy growing and harvesting season. Furthermore, Dolan and his team work with 18 local growers. As members, these farmers own storage at the cooperative’s plants and rely on the team to help move potatoes. As one of the largest packing cooperatives in the Midwest, APG is seasoned in marketing and distribution. Growers can rely on the expertise of staff and the quality of the facilities’ storage capacity to keep high-quality spuds fresh for consumers.
The world’s best potato
APG deals exclusively in Red River Valley potatoes, offering red- and yellow-skinned potatoes to distributors and retailers around the Eastern U.S. “We produce a really nice shade of red here, because of our soils,” Dolan explains. “I might be prejudiced, but I think the non-irrigated fresh potatoes our partners grow have much more flavor than the irrigated product.”
Dolan and his team have seen a major spike in demand or red potatoes. With a slightly higher nutrient content than traditional white potatoes, these colorful tubers have a growing market share. APG keeps the wheels moving by enforcing strong quality control and working with seasoned growers who are equally committed to taste and food safety.
“Food safety and traceability have been integral to getting our products into grocery stores,” Dolan elaborates. “We have made great strides in food safety over the last few years, adopting procedures that help us adapt to Food and Drug Administration requirements and consumer trends. We have a full-time food safety officer on our staff and we have an annual third-party audit to keep us on our toes. We have also spent a lot of time in documentation, keeping records and setting up guidelines for our plant managers to follow. We have purchased equipment to document and put pallet tags on all of the individual 50-pound cases.”
Dolan and his team work hard to market and distribute members’ potatoes. The guarantee of food safety and quality is just one of the many benefits members share at the cooperative.
“We are always looking at ways to better the profit for our growers,” Dolan explains. “We have invested a lot of money into our storage facilities, upgrading them with the latest technology. We use computerized storage methods and air systems to control the atmosphere potatoes are stored in. This allows us to store products for a longer period, keeping temperature and humidity at the right levels to keep them fresh as living organisms.”
Buyers can count on APG for a fresh product, which helps the cooperative reap greater rewards for members. Profits are either reinvested in the cooperative or come back to growers as dividends. By supporting growers and helping them sell more, the cooperative is self-supporting. A better year for growers means a better year for the cooperative as a whole. “We try to keep our costs of operation as low as possible so we can reduce the cost for our growers to market and pack product,” Dolan says. The end result is a happy and profitable cooperative that produces quality and safe produce.
The cooperative is building up its market share throughout the region by offering high-quality potatoes that feed people and keep agriculture moving. Dedicated to quality food and the support of growers, Associated Potato Growers Inc. remains the most significant potato cooperative in the Red River Valley.