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Sterling Hill Farms builds new business on industry know-how

Sterling Hill Farms, the newest potato grower-packer-shipper in Washington’s Skagit Valley, is already in the thick of its first marketing season.

Partners Norm Nelson Jr., Jim Nelson and Tony Wisdom opened their doors for business March 1, and the company currently employs 40 people.

“This is the best and most talented team I’ve ever hoped to assemble,” Wisdom told The Produce News.

The vertically integrated company, headquartered in Burlington, WA, grows, packs, ships and markets premium-quality conventional reds, yellows and whites.

“We dabble in specialty varieties and fingerlings,” Wisdom added.

He said the three partners have a combined 75 years of potato growing, packing and shipping experience.

The Nelson brothers, children of one of the Skagit Valley’s prominent potato growers, started their own operation 12 years ago. Wisdom came to the valley nine years ago and recruited the Nelsons in the business venture.

Sterling Hill Farms purchased the land and facilities of a potato grower who had decided to retire.

“We are a substantial grower in the valley,” he said about the acquisition.

The original facility was gutted, and new state-of-the-art equipment — including electronic optics for sizing and grading — was installed.

Even with this technological edge, Wisdom said people are the lynchpin to a successful operation.

“We still want our excellently trained staff to make the final decision on quality,” he said.

The design of the single enclosed building ensures the cold chain is never broken.

Wisdom said Sterling Hill Farms has a strong environmental stewardship program in place specifically developed to promote premium potato production.

“This focus definitely shows in our quality,” he said.

On the food-safety front, Wisdom said Sterling Hill Farms has achieved a Superior rating with Primus and has scored in the highest tier for GlobalGAP certification.

Boxes of U.S. No. 1 potatoes are marketed under the “Sterling” and “Cascade” labels. Boxes of U.S. No. 2 product are marketed under the “Trophy” label. Bagged potatoes are marketed under the “Artisan” label. Private label is also available at customer request.

Sterling Hill Farms services all market sectors and moves potatoes to both domestic and export markets. Potato movement generally runs from late August through early June.

The company’s website, www.sterlinghillfarms.com, is expected to go live in early October.

Wisdom plans to walk the floor at this year’s Produce Marketing Association Fresh Summit.

“I will be at PMA looking forward to talking to customers and making new friends,” he said.

People wanting to know more about Sterling Hill Farms may also contact Dave Clark, sales and marketing manager, who is a 10-year member of the Skagit Valley agricultural community.