The Potato Heartland

What’s New in the Red River Valley?

H & S FRESHPACK, Hoople, ND — This new growing and shipping operation brings a wealth of experience. O.C. Schulz & Sons, Crystal, ND, and J.G. Hall & Sons, Hopple, ND, have partnered to form the new business, H & S FreshPak. The two well-established potato growing and shipping companies have acquired the wash plant, which was formerly owned by the Northern Valley Growers, a small group of growers in the Red River Valley.

Andy Moquist and T.J. Hall are co-managing the operation. Moquist brings 14 years of shed management and sales experience from O.C Schulz & Sons, and Hall has been in shed operations for 20 years at J.G. Hall & Sons, including 10 years in sales.

Moquist reports that at least 80 percent of the potato volume run from the H & S FreshPak facility will be from the two growing operations. “Our demand has sometimes exceeded our supply,” says Hall. “The opportunity came for us to buy this operation, so we will now be more efficiently able to meet the needs of our customers.”

The former Northern Valley Growers management and workforce at the plant have been retained, and the facility was already equipped with upgraded machinery, including an Odenberg optical sizer. Some repairs have been completed in the storage area.

The volume for H & S FreshPak will be marketed through NoKota Packers, Buxton, ND. “We were looking for a sales group to handle our volume, and we believe NoKota Packers is a good fit,” says Hall.

Ted Kreis, marketing and communications director for the Northern Plains Potato Growers Association, Grand Forks, MN, has worked with the fresh shippers in the Red River Valley for several years and sees a bright future for the new owners. “These are two of the most established and reputable potato growing families in the Red River Valley. You can be assured that H & S FreshPak will be a first-class operation.”

NOKOTA PACKERS, Buxton, ND — Carissa Olsen has been named chief operating officer of the company. Olsen has been with NoKota Packers since 2005, working in operations and management. She was promoted to the position last winter, according to Steve Tweten, president.

NoKota Packers will be taking on an additional 150,000 hundredweight (cwt.) of potato volume this season, as it will now be handling all sales for H & S FreshPak. “We will be able to answer our customers’ needs better with the additional capacity,” says Olsen. “It is a great marketing partnership between the two companies.”

NoKota Packers also markets part of its crop through San Francisco-based Fresh Solutions Network. Fresh Solutions provides marketing, category management and other services. In addition to the traditional retail poly-bagged product, it offers a line of convenience, gourmet, and fresh-cut potato products, and custom packs according to customer needs.

ASSOCIATED POTATO GROWERS, Grand Forks, ND — Paul Dolan, manager, reports that the co-op has installed a palletizer in its Grand Forks facility that takes on 50-pound masters. The Grand Forks headquarters is one of three locations in the Red River Valley from which the co-op operates.

The company also added a potato polisher at its Drayton, ND, facility. “Now, all three sheds have a polisher. Polishers help give a nice sheen to the potatoes, allow us to put out an even better product, and make them more attractive to the buyers and consumers,” says Dolan.

KERIAN MACHINES, Grafton, ND — The company is celebrating 50 years in business this year, according to president and owner James Kerian, one of the third-generation members of this family owned operation. In 1967, Louis Kerian, James’ grandfather, was managing potato warehouses in the region when he decided to design his first potato-sorting machine. His innovation caught the attention of neighbors who solicited his expertise to create custom designs.

Louis Kerian’s son, John, joined the company in 1978, and expanded its product line and marketing region. The company also started exporting its machines to other countries.

Today, Kerian Machines offers more than 150 different products and delivers to more than 60 countries. “It’s great that we have provided reliability and consistency for 50 years,” says James Kerian. “When growers and shippers get quality equipment, we’ve been able provide parts and upgrades.”

Kerian adds he is confident the company will continue to expand and supply equipment and technical support for its longtime and future customers.

While potatoes are still the single largest application, the company continues to expand into specialized sizers for an increasing number of commodities, including fruits, vegetables and nuts. In the potato arena, offerings include sizers for mini-tubers.

New this year is “a mobile-friendly website.” Kerian has also produced a series of videos on maintenance of the sizers. The videos can be accessed through a YouTube link or emailed to customers upon request.

J.G. HALL & SONS, Hoople, ND — Several upgrades to the wash plant have been made, including the addition of another grading line. According to T.J. Hall, sales manager, the new line will help increase efficiency and increase packing capacity for customers. J.G. Hall & Sons also has a packing facility in nearby Edinburg, ND.

Hall was promoted to sales manager last season, reports owner Greg Hall. Jackson Hall, returned to the company last year and works with food safety compliance.

O.C. SCHULZ & SONS, Hoople, ND — Following one of the toughest seasons on record, the company is back in full operation this year. Dave Moquist, owner, expects good, potato volume with great quality and consistent red and yellow potato shipments this season.

O.C. Schulz was among the worst victims of 2016’s devastating weather, and extensive destruction of the exterior of the company’s wash plant added to the crop damage.

NORTHERN PLAINS POTATO GROWERS ASSOCIATION, Grand Forks, MN — NPPGA launched a new website dedicated to promoting potatoes grown for the fresh market and branded as Red River Valley Potatoes, says Ted Kreis, marketing and communications director. The new website address is

Previously, the brand had been marketed on the association’s website, “That arrangement had worked well for many years, but the targeted audience of consumers and wholesale buyers had little interest in much of the content on that site, so the marketing message for Red River Valley Potatoes got a bit watered down,” says Kreis. “Plus, it was time for a fresh look for the highly competitive fresh market.”