Zero to Sixty

Spudnik celebrating 60 years

Published online: May 28, 2018 Articles, New Products, Potato Equipment Tyrell Marchant, Editor
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Sixty years ago, in a potato cellar northwest of Blackfoot, Idaho, a giant was born. Brothers Carl and Leo Hobbs weren’t necessarily looking to become one of the biggest names in the potato and sugarbeet equipment market. In those earliest days, they just thought harvest didn’t need to be such a grueling process.

It was 1958. Russia had just launched Sputnik into orbit less than a year before, and the spirit of ingenuity was firing people’s imaginations all over the world. Among those imaginations were those of the Hobbs brothers, who were convinced there was a better way to move potatoes in and out of storage. From that idea was born what was eventually dubbed the Spudnik Scooper. The rest, as they say, is history.

Over the ensuing decades, Spudnik would become perhaps the premier manufacturer of potato harvest and handling equipment in North America, ultimately entering the sugarbeet market as well. From the beginning, the company has been led by its twin guiding principles of innovation and quality.

“I always tell people, we had growing pains from the day we started,” Carl Hobbs says today. “But everything we’ve ever built, it had a need.” This is a point on which the company still prides itself; every piece of equipment coming out of its shop is meant for practical, not theoretical, use in the field.

To this day, Spudnik prides itself on understanding the growers it works with. Employees and management acknowledge that potato growers are challenged with rapidly growing demands, among them labor cost, equipment expenses and contract negotiations. The company tries to provide essential solutions to ease at least some of those challenges. In recent years, Spudnik has developed multiple new harvester models for specialty varieties, high capacities, separation performance and simplicity. One of the latest of these developments is a six-row direct-load harvester.

“We understand that it’s not just the equipment,” says Spudnik sales director Corey Steidley. “More equipment can be a solution, but it is not always the solution to the problem. We try to create new perspectives for the farmer; that is sometimes more valuable than the equipment by itself. If we can’t help the customer with his challenge, we did not do our job. We have the equipment to help, but also decades of experience we can and want to share. Innovating products is important and we will continue to do so, but the real challenge is to create innovation with perspective.”

“We want the conversation with the customer, and to understand what their challenges are, so we can provide real solutions,” adds CEO Rainer Borgmann. “We love to have customers visit us right here at Spudnik [headquarters in Blackfoot] so we really can take the time to talk about their operation. This is how innovation starts and new products develop.”

To celebrate its 60th anniversary, Spudnik—which today employs some 300 people—hosted an open house in January at its manufacturing facility in Blackfoot, welcoming more than 1,000 customers and other industry members in to witness the process that has made the company the success it is.

“The industry has come a long way,” says Spudnik founder Carl Hobbs. “The quality of [the crops] has made a lot of steps, but machinery has contributed a lot to that. It takes everything together to make it work.”