The current owners, E. Phillip Hickman, Jr. and David L. Hickman, are fourth generation potato farmers on this land. Their sons, Matthew, Mark and Phillip, comprise the fifth generation and are actively involved in all aspects of the operation. Dublin Farms, Inc. currently produces potatoes, corn, soybeans, and green beans in Accomack County. We are constantly striving to improve our operations to be good stewards of the land and our rural community. If we can't produce the finest crops for your table, it's simply not worth doing.
Dublin Farms, Inc., a leader in the Virginia potato industry, traces its origin to the mid-1870’s when Edward Thomas Hickman began raising potatoes on his home farm, “Dublin.” “Dublin” was the name given to this 300-acre tract in Horntown, VA, on the north side of Mosquito Creek, when it was separated from an original land grant from England. Potatoes have been grown on various parts of this farm every year since 1876.
Dublin Farms has always been at the forefront of innovation in the Virginia potato industry. We were the first to fumigate fields to reduce nematode and disease pressure. Fumigation use to be done with overhead irrigation but today we inject our fumigant into the ground precisely where it is needed reducing the possibility of runoff and reducing the amount of chemical needed.
The latest John Deere precision ag technology is utilized on all our equipment, from equipment guidance to fertilizer application to electronically controlled seed spacing we use every resource available to reduce fertilizer and chemical use while still maximizing yields. Every pass across the field whether it's tillage, fertilizer application, planting, chemical application or even cultivation passes are recorded and stored by John Deere's cloud-based software that allows us to access it at any time from any mobile device or computer.
Center pivots are controlled by an app on the phone that can monitor rainfall, irrigation applications, depletion rates by crop, available water in the soil and recommend the next irrigation application time and amount.
Crop rotations and cover crops are used in the years that potatoes are not planted in the field. Once the potato crop has been harvested the field is disced smooth then planted with a fall soybean or green bean crop. Those crops are harvested sometime in October and a cover crop is then planted into the field. The cover crop helps to build organic matter in the soil which increases water retention and holds nutrients in the soil and even adds nutrients for the next year’s crop, typically corn.
In the spring corn will be planted into the cover crop then sprayed and killed so that the corn can grow. The cover crop will act like a mat covering the soil, helping to prevent evaporation of water and suppressing weed seed germination. This practice helps to minimize chemical applications. The corn is harvested sometime in September.
After, we till the land to help break up compaction and work in all of the biomass (residue from the cover crop and corn crop) that sits on top of the soil. That biomass is full of nutrients that we need to break down so they will be plant available in the spring when the potatoes are planted. Tillage depletes soils of organic matter, but at this time there is no way to plant and grow potatoes without it. We are currently working with industry leading companies like Tri-Est Ag and Schlagle Manufacturing to develop a minimum tillage practice for potatoes.
In our packing facility we are constantly adding new technology and practices to ensure only the highest quality potatoes make it to our customers. We were the first potato farm on the Eastern Shore of Virginia to build a cold storage room (7 trailer load capacity) in 1990. With that room we were able to pack loads in advance and store them for pickup. Removing the field heat significantly improved the shelf life of our potatoes, giving retailers some extra time to stock them and consumers a fresher product for consumption.
A new problem quickly arose, we had more packing capacity than we had cold storage. So in 2000 we built a second 7 trailer load capacity cold storage room.
In 2004 we installed a VOLM weigher and bagger to increase our retail packaging capability to 50 bags a minute, nearly quadrupling production.
2009 brought us a Tomra Titan color sorter. By automating the sorting of our potatoes, we could more efficiently grade and process our potato crop. Just four years later in 2013, we upgraded to a Titan II. Our sorting system pulls the #2 grade and culled produce while allowing the most desirable #1's into the packing area for human inspection.
Growing potatoes is a dirty business. In 2014 we overhauled the debris removal process of our packing line so that field debris( corn cobs, corn root balls, grass, potato vines, etc.) are separated from the potatoes mechanically. This saved significant amounts of manpower while improving product quality.
Our process evolution led us to significantly increase our potato production to meet the market need for high quality potatoes. But as our shipments grew, we began to see significant bottlenecks due to the unpredictable nature of scheduling product pick-up. We needed more cold storage capacity to keep the processing line running. So in 2019, we built a third cold storage room with capacity for 10 more trailer loads. Today our total storage capacity is at 24 trailer loads, and we are rarely below 20 trailer loads stored at any given time.
Food safety became a driving issue for all produce growers in 2012. Potato Growers on the ESVA took that challenge head on and 3 farms became USDA Good Ag Practices (GAP) certified that year. Of course, Dublin Farms was one of them. Since then we have continuously pushed ourselves to raise the bar every year.
Through our participation in the GAP program, we identified unnecessary risk of damage or contamination of our potato crop as they were shuttled between buildings. So in 2012, we expanded our packing facility by 10,000 sq. ft. This allowed us to store our crop inside one building, reducing handling and improving storage conditions.
In 2013, the USDA further improved the GAP program by introducing a new, higher standard audit known as Harmonized GAP. The two standards used for USDA Harmonized GAP audits are the “Field Operations and Harvesting Harmonized Food Safety Standard” and the “Post-harvest Operations Harmonized Food Safety Standard.” We are proud to say that Dublin Farms was the only potato farm in the area to obtain this certification that year.
In 2018 USDA came out with a Global GAP certified audit known as "Harmonized GAP Plus", Global GAP being the highest standard of food safety audits. We were the only potato farm on the ESVA that year to receive Harmaonized GAP Plus certification and we continue to be audited by this standard today.
It's important that consumers are provided with the highest quality potatoes, and we want you to know that we're doing everything possible to provide you with the best product to offer your customers. We invite you to view our GAP Certifications and Audit Checklists to see our operations for yourself.
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