I live in North Dakota, however, my family farms potatoes in 11 different states
. My dad asked me if I wanted to go with him and my brother Eric for a two day tour. The trip was essentially just to check the farms out, kick some tires, and see some spuds. I ended up learning a lot more than I expected.
Winamac, IN – Finishing up harvest
We arrived in South Bend, IN and drove to the farm outside of Winamac, IN. The farm manager, production manager and agronomist met us right away.
We talk for a while about land and availability, and the cost of leasing due to corn prices. We go out back, and there is equipment everywhere. A new equipment shed is needed. There are issues with land availability around the farm – so the dimensions and direction will have to be adjusted, there will need to be an additional over-hang off of the current line-shed, and we’ll need to move some electrical poles. Next, we go out to the fields.
In order to diversify, Black Gold is now planting sweet potatoes at a few of their farms.
The first field will yield 575 bags per acre (350 bags were budgeted). The next field was a little less than stellar, but still above yield budget – we are a little nervous however, because we need to dig them soon before disease sets in with this particular variety, so it’s important that we get some orders within the next week, or quality will go down dramatically.
Then, we go to the sweet potato field, a new crop that we’re trying this year at a couple farms to diversify. We dug a few samples and discovered that there was a rodent doing some major chewing damage. This was something that we needed to look into – was this common with sweet potatoes? What exactly was it? Was it only in Indiana? We don’t know.
Black Gold Sturgis, MI – Harvest is in full swing.
Sturgis, MI – Harvest is still in full swing
When we get to Sturgis, there were about 10 trucks waiting to be loaded, and spuds moving smoothly through the line. We quickly headed out to the field where they were digging. Potatoes filled the harvester – they estimated it is about a 600 bag per acre field.
With this variety, there are a ton of vines, so the harvester has a tendency to get plugged up – with a 600 bag per acre yield; it’s worth the extra work. My dad mentions that the potatoes we’re seeing will be on the shelves within 48 hours as chips.
These potatoes will be on grocery shelves as chips within 48 hours of harvest.
Then, a neighbor came out of his house and told the farm manager that the filed trucks were driving too fast by his house – oops. We were off to lunch. This is where the farm manager let my brother and dad know what all needed to be done to be successful. “I really need an extra planter, I’ll probably be able to increase acreage if I did” and “I need a full-time agronomist and a guy who knows how to fix the wash-plant”. He gave a report of land availability for next year, and we took off.
VP of Operations – Hiring top talent
We go back to Grand Forks, and I got into my car to drive the 70 miles south to Fargo. My other brother John called to check in to see if I survived with Dad & Eric for 2 days. He began to tell me about his day: He had 2 sweet potato researchers come from Louisiana to the farm in Arbyrd, MO, as well as a sweet potato harvester mechanic, that was training in the new sweet potato manager. He also spent the day working with several head-hunters to hire a table stock manager, someone who knows potatoes, the channel, and retail.
Farming and then some
These two days put things into perspective about what farmers and producers – of any shape, crop or size have to deal with. There is constant decision making, analyzing, planning and execution on a daily basis that can have huge impacts. All of this, while being an advocate for family farms, catalyst for agriculture and educator in food production – not to mention being a family member, a community member and a Bison football fan.
As we were driving in Indiana, my brother looked out at a combine in a soybean field and said “Sitting in a combine all day would almost be better than a day off”. At the core of this potato farming chaos, it’s still farmed by farmers, and that’s what farmers love to do.
What do you think would be better than a day off?
Leah Brakke is an Account Manager for AdFarm in Fargo, ND. Follow her on Twitter @LeahJoy