On a hot summer afternoon south of Burley, Craig Searle and his brothers take time to leisurely chat with a potato editor at a picnic table in the shade. And snack on watermelon.
Even with so many brothers working on the same farm—five total, though one was missing due to church duties—everyone has plenty to do. Duties are divided up pretty well, peppered with a little overlap.
Craig, who’s been serving on the United States Potato Board since 2011, says using common sense—and some very logical advice from his grandfather—is what has kept their operation running for close to 40 years.
The Searle family has been in the Burley area for close to a century—since about 1914. The brothers have been growing potatoes for Simplot since 1974. Third-generation growers, their grandfather and father grew potatoes for a time before they stopped growing them to focus on other crops.
Craig says that since there were five boys growing up on the farm, their father, Raymond, had “cheap labor”—and he kept them plenty busy. It worked so well, all five boys returned to the farm. There wasn’t enough ground for all of them, however, so they took on a dairy and started raising cows. Plus, over the years they’ve continued to increase acreage.
The Searles operate under the name Moo View Cow Palace. Kelly Searle is the dairyman—raising about 500 head—and focuses on potato storage. They grow about 900 acres of Russet Burbanks for Lamb Weston, McCains and Simplot. Their other crops include about 1,100 acres of Roundup Ready sugarbeets as well as wheat, barley, oats, alfalfa and corn. They also have a few stock cows.
Kent works with the dairy, too, but because he’s fluent in Spanish he’s the liaison with the migrant workers. Lloyd focuses on the books and some of the equipment repairs, while Clifford focuses on field work. Craig focuses a lot on agronomy, with both the potatoes and the sugarbeets. They all have irrigation responsibilities.
The five Searle brothers have two sisters: one lives in Rexburg, and the other is married to a grower who lives nearby—recently appointed USPB board member Brent Stoker.
It appears as though the operation will stay in the family for many more years. Between the five families, there are several sons who have expressed interest in returning to the farm after graduation—two from Cliff, two from Craig and one from Kent.
Common sense and their grandfather’s blatantly obvious advice—i.e., the fundamentals—are what have helped make Moo View successful with growing and selling crops.
Craig points out that passing Good Agricultural Practices audits has been all about common sense.
“That’s what we’ve been doing anyway,” he says. “Now we have to document it.”
So is making a profit.
“Grandpa always said, ‘There are two ways to do it: either spend less than you make or make more than you spend. Either one works, and if you don’t do them, you’re in trouble!’”
He also taught them they didn’t need to make huge profits each year to make money.
“He used to say, ‘When you could make a little bit of money, you sell them, and then go grew some more.’ You didn’t have to get a home run all the time.”
The potatoes have been really good to the Searles over the years, mostly because they’ve stuck pretty well to selling on contracts. To avoid another 2009, he suggests growers know where the potatoes are going before they plant them. The Searles have also been consistent.
“Some people are gamblers,” he says. “That might be the year you want to grow them when everybody’s cutting, so sometimes you hit a lick and sometimes you get hit a lick. But we just got to stay the course.”