50 for 50: Barrett Family

Published online: Jun 15, 2021 50 for 50, Grower of the Month Tyrell Marchant, Editor
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Throughout 2021, as part of Potato Grower’s celebration of our 50th year in publication, we will be honoring in our pages and on our website 50 of the potato industry’s most innovative and influential individuals, companies and organizations over the past half-century. This “50 for 50” series will include researchers, salesmen, packers, processors and, of course, plenty of potato growers. A lot of them will be names you’ve heard before. To some, you’ll get a fresh introduction. Regardless, each has had an outsize impact on the U.S. potato industry, and each deserves our thanks and recognition. To view the full roster of “50 for 50” honorees, click here
This article appears in the June 2021 issue of Potato Grower.

They say everything’s bigger in Texas. But when it comes to potatoes, the state sits just 13th in acres harvested. Only about one one-hundredth of a percent of Texas’ total landmass is dedicated to growing potatoes.

But the Barrett family of the Texas Panhandle has proven for more than 80 years that growing potatoes can be done quite successfully in Texas. In 1939, Fred Barrett was a potato grower in Wendell, Idaho. That fall, he met a farmer and a real estate developer from Texas who were in Idaho studying irrigation methods. Before long, Fred took a trip to the Panhandle with his new acquaintances, and the rest, as they say, is history.

In 1940 Fred moved his family south, and today Springlake Potatoes and Richard Barrett Produce carry on the Barrett name and tradition of excellence.

“Fred just saw an opportunity,” says his great-grandson Keith, who along with his father Richard takes care of most of the Barretts’ potato marketing needs. “There was good water and not a lot of potatoes being grown down here, and he would have freight advantages against other growers. I don’t know if he was the first, but he was one of the first potato growers in Texas.”

There’s a reason not many potato growers choose to ply their trade in the Lone Star State. Growing a crop like potatoes has its unique challenges in Texas that growers in other regions often don’t face. The Barretts grow many of their potatoes on a stretch of highly erodible sand hills. That soil, combined with the Panhandle’s often extreme heat and wind, means that Barrett potatoes always have to be planted into a cover crop (usually wheat). It’s challenging, but the Barretts take great pride in doing what they do where they do it.

Being one of the only growers in Texas gives the Barretts a few unique advantages to go along with those challenges. Each year, they harvest between 1,000 and 1,500 acres of reds, russets and yellows, all grown for the fresh market under pivot irrigation. Much of their crop will stay in Texas, but they also ship a lot to the potato-needy areas of the Deep South and Northeast. Steve and Bruce Barrett and Tim Gonzalez manage the farming side of the operation, and Keith and Richard Barrett head up the marketing team.

The Barretts have trusted the market, their techniques, and hard work, and it’s paid off. Potato production might not be bigger in all of the Lone Star State, but up in the Panhandle, it’s safe to say that it is.