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Patates Dolbec: potatoes, vodka and artificial intelligence

Patates Dolbec is more than just a potato producer. This small Saint-Ubalde company founded a distillery where it produces vodka and gin with its own ingredients, from start to finish. It also co-developed an algorithm to sort and classify its tubers without human intervention. And it’s also implementing a strategic plan to reduce its GHG emissions while adapting to climate change. Portrait of a family-owned business that thrives on challenges.

The original article (in French only): La Presse

Every year, Patates Dolbec produces and packages more than 40 million kilograms of potatoes of various varieties (yellow, red, white, russet, baby, etc.) on 10,000 acres of cropland spread over a 60 km radius between Trois-Rivières and Québec City. Its products are sold in Quebec (80% of production), the rest of Canada (15%) and the United States (5%).

The 150-employee company, originally founded in 1967 by Herman Dolbec and Francine Sauvageau and now headed by their son Stéphan. is multiplying its initiatives.

Investments of some $20 million to modernize the packaging plant and warehouse now enable the company to deliver fresh potatoes year-round to major chains and food distributors.

“Our investments help us better meet demand every day of the year and replace products that used to come from the United States and other Canadian provinces.”

Hugo d’Astous, CEO of Patates Dolbec 

Vodka and gin

To make the most of the potatoes that don’t pass inspection, Patates Dolbec invested $2.2 million to launch Ubald Distillery, which produces a potato-based vodka as well as two gins made from grains (rye, corn, etc.) grown in rotation.

“We are one of the rare companies in Quebec to produce our spirts from grain to bottle, that is to say entirely in-house,” says CEO Hugo d’Astous. The distillery’s products, including Route 363 vodka, will soon be available at the SAQ. 

Artificial Intelligence

With labour in short supply, Patates Dolbec can no longer afford to hire workers to manually sort potatoes. The company installed an optical sorter, but it is only 70% efficient

Partnering with Quebec SME Vooban, Patates Dolbec is now testing an algorithm that increases the sorter’s efficiency to 95%, based on 12 inspection criteria. “It makes it possible to eliminate routine tasks and provide more rewarding jobs,” explains Hugo d’Astous.

To adapt to the new reality of climate change, the Patates Dolbec team is also developing a strategic plan for the coming years.

“Our production is not organic, it’s integrated,” says d’Astous. We’re working to reduce our use of fungicides and pesticides by using cameras, for example, to identify areas where insect pests are concentrated. ”

As a producer, we have a responsibility to reduce our environmental footprint. We are studying the possibility of using electric tractors or even producing our own energy.

Hugo d’Astous, CEO of Patates Dolbec

And because summers are hotter and drier, with less rainfall, the company has undertaken a $10 million investment program over five years to irrigate its fields. “We have no choice if we don’t want to see our harvests cut in half,” explains the CEO of Patates Dolbec. We’ve now had three summers in a row without rain in August. ”

Patates Dolbec is being recognized at the 31st Innovation Awards Gala of the Association for the Development of Research and Innovation in Quebec (ADRIQ), which will take place on November 25, 2021.