Our busy season has gotten a little less busy.
Last week, on June 2nd, we wrapped up planting potatoes in a seed potato field down on the Oregon-California border near Worden. Slightly breezy and warm with a view of the Klamath Wildlife Refuge and the snowcapped Siskiyou Mountains to the south and rolling hills and Cascades to the North made for a serene ending to a challenging season.
Every potato planting season comes with its challenges, and this one was no different. The wet winter and spring were a blessing and a curse –a blessing for the much needed end to the drought we’ve been living with but a curse as it kept us from the fields for a while. Once we were able to get out to the fields to plant potatoes, modern technology’s gremlins decided to play a few tricks on our planters and tractors, slowing our planting crews to a crawl in the beginning. Despite that slow down, we chased them off and did what we do best – farm.
Like shipping potatoes to our customers, planting chipping potatoes takes more people and effort than a lot of folks realize. The story of planting season begins before the seed even hits our cellars, up in the offices of Gold Dust’s Malin campus. In the months leading up before the seed arrives, our management team has to figure how many acres are going to be planted into chipping potatoes and which varieties we’re going to grow. After those decisions are hammered out, the potato seed has to be ordered and we have to plan for it to be stored once it arrives.
Since we’re in the heat of shipping season at this point, there’s a dance between emptying cellars and getting them cleaned and getting our customers’ orders through the packing shed. It takes an extraordinary amount of coordination and organization between the shed crews and the cellar crews, yet they manage to make sure we have room for the incoming potato seed while getting our customers’ orders out on time.
While some of the potato seed we plant is grown right here in the Klamath Basin, much of it comes from out of state and arrives by truck and rail. For the seed that comes by train, we have crews at the rail yard in Malin unloading it from boxcars into spud trucks. The seed that comes in on trucks requires a slightly less handling but still quite a bit of coordination as, we mentioned, we’re still in the middle of shipping season and it takes people to get it unloaded. Regardless of how it gets to Malin, the seed still needs to get weighed before going into storage, which means our front office crew is watching the scale and creating weight tickets.
So, when it’s time to plant potatoes, we just throw them in the planter and stick it in the ground, right? Nope. We set up a cellar to process and cut the seed, bark it (yes, with bark dust), which in and of itself takes a lot of hard-working people to make sure we’re putting high-quality product into the ground. After the potato seed is cut and barked, it goes back into storage for a few weeks until we’re ready to plant it.
It may only take a few paragraphs to describe getting ready for planting season, but it takes months of hard work and organization to make sure when we’re finally able to plant potatoes, we’re ready to go. And when it’s go time, it’s another dance of equipment and crews. Just as our management team figures out which fields will be planted with which potato varieties, they also figure out when they’ll be planted. Back in the offices, the battle plan is sorted out, the bookkeeping team is tracking the seed as it leaves the cellars and the front office is back to tracking the weights of loaded spud trucks as the truck drivers head out to the fields.
Speaking of the fields, it too is more complicated than dragging our equipment out and putting seed in the ground. In most cases the field is transitioning from a cover crop or one of our rotational crops (as per our sustainable farming plan) to a potato field. This requires weeks of tilling and working the ground over so we can plant potatoes in them. Prepping the fields often starts while the end of winter is lurking about, which means being at the mercy of the weather for when we can get our tractors out into the fields and pray they don’t get stuck. And then once the fields are ready? We’re still watching the evening weather reports and tracking the storms and the sun to see when we can actually get the spuds in the ground.
And when all the planning comes together, the coordinating of the various crews is worked out and the weather is just right, then – just then! – we’re able to plant our chipping potato crop for the upcoming year. And again, as with everything in agriculture, it takes more people than just the guys in the tractors to get the fields planted. We have our mechanics on hand fixing everything from pickups and spud trucks to the equipment. Our spud truck drivers are getting the potato seed to the planters and our agronomy team is checking the seed, ground and conditions as the fields are planted. Our management team is warily watching the process in the fields and from the offices to make sure everything is going as planned while our field crews are laying out pipe in the fields that have just been planted. Everyone is pulling together, diligently doing their job – regardless of how unrelated they seem to each other – to make sure the potatoes are planted.
In a few weeks after the potato seed is in the ground, we begin to see the fruit of all this organization, labor and worry as potato plants sprout from the ground. Because planting season is over doesn’t mean the worry and hard-work is over, it’s just a different season. Frost crews will be monitoring the bitter nights, preparing to turn on sprinklers to fight the cold. Our irrigation teams will be making sure the potatoes get the water they need while the agronomy team is watching the plants for signs of stress and pests. The marketing and sales team will be lining up customers’ orders while the management team is looking toward harvest and beyond.
When you consider all of the different people involved in planting a potato field and all of the different hats being worn it takes to make it happen, it’s really incredible. It also showcases the variety of jobs available on the modern farm – we need all of these people doing these different jobs well just to get a potato in the ground!
Thank you to our hard-working planting crews who gave up weekends and worked late into the nights to make sure the fields were planted this year. And thank you to everyone – from the shed and cellar crews to the office staff and truck drivers – for getting the potato crop in the ground. Your dedication is much appreciated.
And now, we can turn to planting grain and cutting hay!