50 for 50: Spudnik Equipment Company

Published online: Jan 10, 2021 50 for 50
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Throughout 2021, as part of Potato Grower’s celebration of our 50th year in publication, we will be honoring in our pages and on our website 50 of the potato industry’s most innovative and influential individuals, companies and organizations over the past half-century. This “50 for 50” series will include researchers, salesmen, packers, processors and, of course, plenty of potato growers. A lot of them will be names you’ve heard before. To some, you’ll get a fresh introduction. Regardless, each has had an outsize impact on the U.S. potato industry, and each deserves our thanks and recognition.

Brothers Carl and Leo Hobbs weren’t necessarily looking to become one of the biggest names in the potato equipment market. In those earliest days, they just thought harvest didn’t need to be such a grueling process.

It was 1958. Russia had 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 said during the company’s 60th anniversary celebration in 2018. “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. Spudnik engineers, salesmen and executives spend countless hours in potato fields, candidly consulting with farmers and working on ways to fill each grower’s unique needs. 

In 2003, Spudnik became a part of the Grimme Group of companies, expanding both its reach and ability to innovate. Today, Spudnik employs dozens of people in its 50,000-plus-square-foot facility.

“The industry has come a long way,” says Carl. “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.”