OK Planting - With the many crops produced at Triple S Farms, the Slagells are planting or harvesting at least 10 months out of the year
Chris Slagell is the youngest of the three Slagells who comprise Triple S Farms in Hydro, Okla. Triple S Farms is the only potato farm of record in Oklahoma, and for the past two decades, the Sooner State has been ably represented by the Slagell family on the United States Potato Board (USPB). His father, Virgil, and his uncle both preceded Chris as USPB Board Members representing Oklahoma.
Slagell is now serving his sixth year on the USPB's Executive Committee, co-chairing the Industry Communications and Policy (ICP) Committee with USPB Board Member, John Meyer, Cohocton, N.Y. He has been an Administrative Committee member since 2010, and has served exclusively as part of the ICP Committee.
During these past three years he has been part of the USPB leadership, meeting with USDA-Agricultural Marketing Service at the annual partnership meeting in Washington, D.C. Slagell has had the unique role of advocating on behalf of potato growers representing their industry from minor production states, becoming more involved in potato promotion on a national level.
At Triple S Farms, the Slagells have been growing potatoes since 1984. In the early years, Slagell recalls his family grew predominantly Frito-Lay chip-stock varieties, and in these early years, they also produced about 30 acres of reds and russets for table-stock, but later focused entirely on chip-stock production. They produced between 600-700 acres with Dean Smith, a partner, for Frito-Lay and Allens, Inc., a family-owned and operated vegetable processor and canning company near Siloam Springs, Ark.
"We grow mainly Frito-Lay numbered varieties, Atlantics and Harley Blackwells," Slagell explains. "We field-run these right into the trucks for shipment to the plants. We grow between 300-400 acres for Frito-Lay, Allens and Barrel O' Fun Snacks through a broker here in Oklahoma.
"Of course, today most of our production goes for potato chips. We used to save our B-sized potatoes for Allens, and they would process these whole in gallon-sized cans, but today they process some of our regular-sized chip-stock potatoes into shoestring potato sticks."
As Oklahoma's only potato producer of record, Slagell and Triple S Farms not only represent their minor production state, they demonstrate diversity in the other crops they produce and market. "We also grow spinach for canning, peanuts, cotton, soybeans, wheat, watermelons, field corn, and last year we started growing sweet potatoes for canning," Slagell said. "Allens also receives and processes all of our spinach and sweet potatoes. Overall, our sweet potatoes did pretty well. It's a different crop to grow, but we are able to harvest it using our same potato equipment.
"Our watermelons have traditionally been marketed with a broker for deals in Minnesota, Wisconsin, New York and Massachusetts-markets mainly in the east. This past year, one-third of the melons remained in Oklahoma and were sold in Walmart stores. We are completing the certification requirements to maintain more of our production for Walmart in our state."
Slagell has been helping farm at Triple S Farms since he was 12 years old. His first job was running a swather in his father's custom silage business, working many hours during weekends and spring breaks. As he grew older, he transitioned into the farm's main field hand in charge of planting peanuts, cotton and potatoes. He also harvests the wheat crop each year.
Today, Slagell is the shed manager for Triple S Farms, and has been full-time on the farm since 1993, overseeing the watermelon and potato crops that are harvested and shipped. The potatoes are washed, dried with fans and loaded directly onto semis for shipping. It takes about 45 minutes for the potatoes to be harvested and to go through the washing and drying line. Within an hour to an hour and 45 minutes, the potatoes will be loaded onto the semis and on their way to their final market destinations.
With all of the diverse crops at Triple S Farms, Slagell says they are constantly planting or harvesting at least 10 months out of the year. "It can be very challenging laying out next year's crop plan," he explains. "We have most of this year's plan in place, and have even mapped out some of the following year's. Spinach can follow cotton or melons, but cannot follow behind peanuts due to concerns about peanut allergies and a possibility for some peanuts getting in with the next year's spinach during processing."
Slagell has been married to his loving wife, Kendra, for 13 years. They have two sons: Garrett (age 12) and Gage (age 9). Already, his son Garrett is following in his father's footsteps, helping on the farm driving tractors and grain carts.
When asked about his decision to become a USPB Board Member five years ago, Slagell indicates it was easy for him to get involved because of the examples of his father and uncle. "I needed to get involved, and I needed to learn about the issues and opportunities taking shape in the potato industry," he said.
Working in the Field
As a part of the 2008 Potato Industry Leadership Institute (PILI) Class, Slagell began the process of his national involvement with the potato industry. After his PILI experience, Slagell was prepared and well on his way to representing Oklahoma and the South Central Caucus on the USPB. PILI is a two-week "immersion-like" program, providing an overview of the potato industry's challenges and issues beyond the production sector, and the roles of the industry's state and national organizations in maintaining a positive business climate for potato growers. PILI is a joint venture of the National Potato Council and the USPB and is sponsored by Syngenta.
As for this year on the USPB, Slagell indicates the Executive Committee will be busy and concerned with the selection process of a new President and CEO to replace Tim O'Connor, who recently announced his resignation after 14 years with the USPB.
"Whoever comes in to the new CEO position will pick up the leadership of the USPB, where it was left, in good and able hands," he said. "This will be a trying time, but I think the future is good. Tim O'Connor put together a very good organization with a good staff, a good group of people. As an industry member, I am very pleased with the return on investment with the USPB. As the recent USDA mandated econometric study indicates, for every one dollar of grower investment, we receive $6.51 in return.
"We will continue to have our challenges, but the USPB will continue providing this high return, increasing demand for potatoes and potato products-maximizing return on grower investment." PG