Texas Crop Out of Ground

Barrett Produce minimizes water use while growing potato crop

Published online: Aug 06, 2014 Potato Harvesting Josie Musico
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SPRINGLAKE, Texas — They’re out of the ground now and waiting to see an oven—well, most of them. Potatoes have reached the late stages of harvest time at Barrett Produce in Lamb and Bailey counties in Texas.

Like other South Plains crops, the newly picked taters took advantage of recent precipitation.

“We’ve really enjoyed the rain,” farm manager Tim Gonzalez said. “Everything’s going as scheduled. Yield is good and quality is great.”

But when it comes to rain, too much of a good thing can bring its own set of problems. Severe showers create muddy ground that increases disease risk and delays digging.

That’s a large part of why the Barrett family selected the location for the farm. About 12 miles north of Littlefield, the soil is a sandy texture that hosts the spuds well in their growing stages and won’t trap a harvester.

“Once we start harvest, we want to be able to dig almost every day,” co-manager Steve Barrett said. “Being in the sand helps us be consistent in our ability to provide fresh potatoes timely.”

Potatoes’ demands for supplemental irrigation are comparable to other commodities, Barrett said. Like those other crops, their growers are experimenting with new ways to conserve that precious limited resource.

“We have to figure out how to do more with less, or the same with less,” manager Bruce Barrett said.

For instance, water used to rinse the spuds in the company’s warehouse when they’re brought in from the fields is reused to irrigate nearby grassland.

Technological advances also help cut back.

Staff use a probe to check moisture levels and monitor the sprinkler system with their 
iPads. They water the fields when they need it—not as part of a routine.

“Our water is an asset. We have no interest in using more water than we absolutely have to,” Steve Barrett said.

Barrett Produce grows about 1,200 acres of potatoes.

That’s more than you’ll find elsewhere in the South Plains’ limited spud market, but not much compared to, say, Idaho. The Gem State leads the nation’s potato supply with 316,000 acres harvested in 2013, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That’s nearly a third of the country’s total 1.05 million-acre cop.

Bruce and Steve’s grandfather, Fred Barrett, relocated his family from Idaho to the Texas Panhandle after he learned the environment was suitable and harvest could be sooner. A lack of competition made him a potato pioneer in the Lone Star State.

“He saw a niche where with the climate we could have potatoes before Idaho,” Steve Barrett said.

But Texas still does not make the top 10 list of potato-producing states.

The Barrett family’s farms have had a fair amount of success, they said, but they can sympathize with reluctant growers. Potatoes do not qualify for the same government assistance programs as other crops, such as corn.

“Potatoes are a high-risk crop. We’re slaves to the market,” Steve Barrett said.


Source: Lubbock Avalanche-Journal