The Dirt Get the dirt here on what we are doing, and how we are doing it.

What Makes 2014 Different?

What was the hot button issue in agriculture this year? Weather? Labor? Technology? Communication? Government? Transportation? The Economy? All of these were issues that affected farmers and ranchers in 2014. These issues have always and will always affect farmers and ranchers regardless of the year.

Beyond the consistent hot button issues that agriculture faces year after year, there were other things that came to light for us in 2014. We had to deal with the regular problems and challenges, but we also knew we had an opportunity to think and act beyond them.

5 Things That Stuck Out in 2014 at Black Gold Farms

5. Grow With a Purpose

Growth for the sake of growths’ sake is not meaningful and it’s not productive. However, growth for the sake of being more sustainable, meeting customer needs and elevating productivity is meaningful and it is productive. 2014 was a year of growth at Black Gold Farms for all of these reasons.

Sweet Potatoes: We’ve been in the sweet potato game for about 3 years now. However, 2014 catapulted us to a bigger player in the market. We have expanded our sweet potato acreage, varieties, and markets quite significantly. Most of our sweet potatoes are used for processing (sweet potato fries). With the new acreage and varieties, we are now also able to supply the fresh market with sweet potatoes as well. This has been a huge project that we have learned from and we feel as though there is huge potential for growth in this market.

Sweet potatoes being shipped out to retail in Delhi, LA.

Sweet potatoes being shipped out to retail in Delhi, LA.

Camden, NC: 2015 will begin with an additional production and packaging facility in North Carolina. This new location is an exciting opportunity to enter into some new markets, develop new relationships and expand customer offerings locally.

Google Earth photo of the new farm location in Cambden, NC

Google Earth photo of the new farm location in Cambden, NC

Data: A large amount of time and energy has been directed to make sure all of the data that we gather is used for something meaningful. There is so much to analyze, to report, and to learn from. In 2014, we continued to put together new information technology systems to be better at managing that data. It’s not that we need more data, but we need to grow the systems to make the data more useful and powerful.

4. Be Better Farmers

We believe, we have the best agronomists, the best engineers, and the best farmers there are on our team. We also like to believe we have a vision to use technology, we do things that will make us more efficient, more profitable and more sustainable. We test, we trial, we research inputs, we develop marketing campaigns and we do projects to see how we can improve. This is all great, and it’s what we need to do. However…

We’re potato farmers. If we can’t be the best at growing potatoes, then all of the other “stuff” doesn’t matter. At the beginning and the end of the day, our customers need a quality potato, at the right time and the right place.

We needed to focus on what really matters. We needed to get back to the basics. The other “stuff” won’t go away. That will continue to be a major factor in our business, but it needs to support, not deviate our focus.

3. Give Back in All Aspects of Life

Locally: A core responsibly of being a good person and a good company is to give back. Black Gold Farms has historically given back locally, and we did that again in 2014. This is something that we will continue to do in the future.

Individually: People need to be happy, healthy and safe. This year there was a lot of talk about how we can help our people live a healthy life while at work. Healthy food choices and physical activity were encouraged and supported. Safety was also a huge topic all year long. Processes and precautions were put in place to ensure we are doing everything we can to maintain a safe workplace.

Industry: There is a huge industry, many people, and great organizations that support our small efforts. In the potato category, in the produce category, in the food category, and in  agriculture there is a lot of work to be done to remain sustainable. We continue to contribute individually and as a company to do what we can to ensure the entire industry remains prosperous and vibrant. We also understand that as farmers, there’s a greater importance now to continue to tell our story, engage non-farm audiences and be an advocate for agriculture as much as we can.

Leah participated with over 500 Produce Industry professionals who traveled to Washington DC to support the industry.

Leah participated with over 500 Produce Industry professionals who traveled to Washington DC to support the industry on Capitol Hill.

Eric, Yvette, Leah, Yvonne, Keith, Jason, Marty & David all participated in the PMA Foundation for Talent's 5K. A great way to show support for health and the future talent that will take the produce industry into the future.

Eric, Yvette, Leah, Yvonne, Keith, Jason, Marty & David all participated in the PMA Foundation for Talent’s 5K. A great way to show support for health and the future talent that will take the produce industry into the future.

2. Implement a Succession Plan

Gregg Halverson, has sat in the CEO chair for a long time. As of October 23rd, 2014 Gregg still sits in the same chair, in the same office, but doesn’t have the same title. It’s now the 4th generation that has the title of CEO. There’s not an official retirement, there’s no major strategy or culture changes planned and day to day operations are essentially the exact same. It’s a shift. It’s a progression. It’s a plan. It’s something that has been years in the making.

Eric getting his new business cards that say "CEO" from Gregg (his dad)

Eric getting his new business cards that say “CEO” from Gregg (his dad)

Gregg will still come to work, provide input, and do what he can to help Black Gold Farms. Eric, will have his same office, but now he has the title and the responsibility to lead the Black Gold Farms mission, vision, values, and the entire team into the future.

1. Have Fun

Farming is hard work. It is early mornings and late nights. It is being away from your family and friends during harvest, and sometimes on Holidays. There is a lot of pressure. There is a lot of reward. Most people involved in agriculture, however wouldn’t have it any other way.

Farming is fun. Not just what we do on a daily basis, but what we share when we’re not in the field, in the office, in the packing facility, or in the shop. If we’re not having fun or if we don’t wake up and enjoy going to work, then we’re doing something wrong. Sometimes, we need to take a step back to remember just how fun this actually is.

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In the middle of a few days of meetings, it was so much fun for everyone at Black Gold Farms to head out to the curling rink.

That’s a wrap!

These are just a few of the highlights that stuck out for Black Gold Farms in 2014. They made 2014 different than other years, however, it’s our hope that all of these things will linger on for 2015.

Congratulations and thank you for an amazing 2014. Here’s to 2015, and may it be even the best year yet!

* Click Here to see what the top 10 of 2013 was. A great reminder of how far we’ve come in 1 year

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One More Potato?

Annual Meetings

Having meetings cost money. Having meetings take time – the planning and attending. Do fancy meetings where people have to fly in, stay in a nice hotel room, attend events, listen to speakers, prepare presentations and eat good food sell one more potato? We think it does more then that.

Our annual meeting, we believe gives the opportunity to those who do the work to be engaged with the entire company. It allows people to be passionate so when they get home they’ll take that excitement with them back to the farm, where they will be more productive. It allows people to know and understand the company and to understand each other – which in turn will cause fewer mistakes, generate more ideas, leave less room for error. This meeting, lets people recognize why we do what we do. In turn, they will want to go back and focus on what’s important to be successful.

About 150 full time employees braved the North Dakota December weather last week for the Black Gold Farms annual meeting. For some, it was the first time on a plane, the first time seeing snow, and the first time in North Dakota. For some, it was the first time meeting face to face people they talk to on a daily basis making big decisions. For some, it was the annual event that they get to re-connect on a personal level with those they’ve worked with for years.

 

From planning to connecting

BG CONNECT LOGOHistorically, we spent most of our meeting time planning and getting into the details of the “what” and “how”. As our business and industry has changed, those details are more specific, and not everything relates to everyone else. As the business has changed so has the value of our connections within Black Gold Farms. We all talk from farm to farm, from position to position – however, it’s not very often that we get to actually meet face to face – we’re all so busy getting the work done. Working as a team to do the job right, doesn’t allow for the opportunity to really learn and get to know each other. Now, Black Gold Connect facilitates just that. We get to hang out with each other and share ideas, share insights and experiences – the good, the bad, the ugly – and maybe find out about each of our families, our hobbies and our lives.  We connect. More pictures of the meeting here.

Foundation of Excellence

FOE LOGO

With growth come complexities. Among all of the complexity of what we do – there may be times when we have lost focus of what really matters. Where we don’t pay attention to the foundation – where we worry about the “other stuff”. This year at our meeting, we committed to re-energize on the foundation of what makes us who we are, and to do the basic things not just right, but to be excellent at them. The foundation of farming – Planting, Growing, Harvesting – if we’re not excellent at these things, than we are will be stuck with being okay. Those are the things that we need to be excellent at. So, over the course of the week, we talked about that foundation, and to ensure we have focus on making sure the foundation is solid, because when it is – that’s when we see excellence.

Down to Business

While the connect part is essential, we still have business to get down to. We started with a full day of manager meetings. While those meetings are going on the rest of the group got to explore Grand Forks for the day.

Gregg Halverson opens the books to all of the managers about how we did this year. Transparency is key - and this way, we know where we are, and where we need to be as an entire group.

Gregg Halverson opens the books to all of the managers about how we did this year. Transparency is key – and this way, we know where we are, and where we need to be as an entire group.

Everyone finally got together at the office Tuesday evening for dinner and to say Hello to new and old friends. We also had the honor of having some special guests as the office building finally achieved the LEED Gold certification.

ND Lt. Governor Drew Wrigley congratulates Black Gold Farms on achieving the LEED Gold certification.

ND Lt. Governor Drew Wrigley congratulates Black Gold Farms on achieving the LEED Gold certification.

The next day general session was full of updates of how 2014 went, and what 2015 will bring.

Eric Halverson opened the general session with a review, got down to the basics - the foundation sets the stage for excellence.

Eric Halverson opened the general session with a review, got down to the basics – the foundation sets the stage for excellence.

Once that was over, the buses were loaded up and headed to the Grafton Curling Club. We spent the night curling and connecting.

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Thursday morning started off with an innovation challenge, and the rest of the general session was filled with outside speakers and encouragement.

Thursday night wrapped up the entire week with the annual awards banquet. Deserving teams and people received the Giving Back Award, Years of Service Recognition and the Annual Horizon awards.

2014 Horizon Award Winners: John Tweten, April Loken & Nathan Libey.

2014 Horizon Award Winners: John Tweten, April Loken & Nathan Libey.

There was also a special “Thank You” to Gregg Halverson who is transitioning to a new role in Black Gold Farms.

Danielle Golden presents Gregg with a gift from the Black Gold Farms family.

Danielle Golden presents Gregg with a gift from the Black Gold Farms family.

10 years of service award recipients.

10 years of service award recipients: Chris Hopkins – Columbia, NC, Jeremy Smallwood – Sturgis, MI, Blain Hopkins – Columbia, NC

Nancy Callahan: 30 years at Black Gold Farms!

Nancy Callahan and the Halverson Family: 30 years at Black Gold Farms!

Black Gold Connect sells more than one potato. It contributes to our way of life. It solidifies our culture. It contributes to bringing us together as a Black Gold Farms Family. It’s reinforcing what all connects us.

Giving Back 2014 – Black Gold Farms

The Arbyrd, MO Farm Team received the prize, but all teams did an amazing job this year giving back to their communities.

Arbyrd, MO Farm team received an extra $1,000 to give back to their local community.

Arbyrd, MO Farm team received an extra $1,000 to give back to their local community.

 

 

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A Farming Media Company

The Produce Marketing Association‘s annual trade show, Fresh Summit was held in Anaheim, CA last week. Industry leaders, marketing gurus, technology trailblazers, retail buyers, food safety experts, talented young professionals as well as decision makers and game changers spend a few days in produce heaven. There were over 20,000 attendees, 900 exhibitors (of which, we were one for the first time) at the Convention Center. 

Our booth - We sampled Roasties, and talked Red Potatoes and Sweet Potatoes.

Our booth – We sampled Roasties, and talked Red Potatoes and Sweet Potatoes.

There were many things that our group took away from the event – besides sore feet and free swag. There were constant reminders throughout the show floor of how big of a job farmers have every step of the production and distribution process. It is so much more than just putting a seed in the ground and getting the final product to the store.

Farmers have to do more than farm.

Those who are removed from food production, believe that a typical farmer’s duty is to: Buy seed, plant seed, take care of the plant, harvest the crop, sell to the store, put crop in bags, put in truck, ship to store, repeat. These are the important fundamentals that make it all happen – and each step has to be done very well.

Now, and in the future, there will be even more to food production and distribution than fundamentally being able to grow food in a specific location at a specific time in a sustainable way. Farmers’ plates are still the same size they always have been, but everything else that farmers have to worry about is being piled on. Thankfully, at places like Fresh Summit, there are ideas, innovations, people and companies that can help farmers and everyone in the system deal with the full plates.

Eric, Yvette, Leah, Yvonne, Keith, Jason, Marty & David all participated in the PMA Foundation for Talent's 5K. A great way to show support for health and the future talent that will take the produce industry into the future.

Eric, Yvette, Leah, Yvonne, Keith, Jason, Marty & David all participated in the PMA Foundation for Talent’s 5K. A great way to show support for health and to support future talent in the produce industry.

Farmers are marketers. Even if they don’t want to be.

As farmers, we often ask ourselves if telling our story is worth it. At the end of the day, we know it is – but we still wonder how we should tell it, and who do we tell it to? Do we want to talk about how we farm to the general public who is removed from agriculture? Do we want to talk to our retail customers about how we can provide value and exceptional service to them? Do we want to talk to consumers so they decide to buy our potatoes as opposed to other potatoes, or even a substitute for potatoes (gasp)?

What we see, is that we have to do it all. We have to do that, as well as produce the best potatoes we can, be as efficient as possible, come up with new innovations, focus on our sustainability efforts, analyze the distribution channels, manage our data, and concentrate on growing industry and customer relationships all at the same time.

And this is why we love what we do.

A Media Company?

So, where do we put our efforts? Gary Vaynerchuk key noted the last general session and wrapped up our experience by reinforcing the importance of why we need to commit to our messages (follow him on twitter @garyvee). He’s a top social media, marketing and all around in-your-face-this-is-what-you-should-do kind of an entrepreneur. He’s fantastic. He’s what farmers need to hear.

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He said, point blank: Everyone in here is a media company first. *Minds were blown*

This was something that the people in the room haven’t really thought about – why would we worry about media and messaging when our job is to grow and move food safely from the farm to the store? Why should we be interacting with consumers when our biggest concern should be to increase yields with fewer inputs? Gary’s message was that what we all do is important, but it doesn’t matter if nobody knows about it, if they don’t understand it, if they don’t realize that we are the experts. We need to be honest, we need to be attentive, we need to listen, we need to be proactive, we need to communicate. We need to be a Farming Media Company.

Potato vs. Potato

The entire experience at these enormous industry-wide events really proves that sometimes a potato isn’t just a potato. A farmer isn’t just a farmer. A potato bag isn’t just a potato bag. We have the ability to show these differences, and we have the responsibility to prove it. The potato today will not be the same as the potato of tomorrow. The individual tuber may not change, however, it may be in how it’s grown, where or when it’s grown, how the story is told, how it’s prepared, to whom the story is told, how it’s packaged, how it’s merchandised, how it’s delivered, and how it’s talked about. It’s our job to find those differences and tell those who need to be told. We need to do that, and still be the best fundamental and technical farmers in the word…

See you next year in Atlanta! Planning for Fresh Summit 2015 starts as soon as sweet potato harvest in Louisiana and chip harvest in Michigan and Indiana is done!

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Each Voice Matters

The United Fresh Washington Policy Conference was held in Washington DC last week. This is an annual conference that brings together the entire produce industry to share its voice with the government. It brings together growers, packers, shippers, packaging companies, transportation companies, commodity associations, and everyone else involved with putting fresh fruits and vegetables on the table. It is where the industry learns about day to day issues as well as issues that are going to impact the future of the industry. It is where individuals march on Capital Hill and have face to face conversations with Representatives. The industry voices their concerns, their hopes, their successes, and their ideas that will help shape the industry and keep the farms, the companies, the sellers and American families healthy and viable.

In order to ensure our businesses are here tomorrow and around for the generations to come, companies and individuals have got to make a commitment to participate. A conference like this costs money and daily duties to businesses and families are left behind. However, this is critical – It’s what has to happen to be successful in the future.

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Have a Voice

We can discuss and debate issues all day. However, if we want something done about them, we have to do more than just talk to each other in the coffee shop every morning. We need to be talking to the people that we voted for in order to really get things done. We have an obligation to make sure that the decision makers are educated and understand the ramifications of their decisions to our industry.

How are our elected Representative supposed to know how these issues affect us? How they affect jobs? How they affect the environment? How they affect health? How they affect national security? How will they know – – – If we don’t tell them.

The Issues

Immigration policy – Millions of dollars of fresh produce won’t be harvested this year because there is not enough labor. Reform is urgently needed in the form of a guest worker program. This has been an issue for years, and there has yet to be any progress.

National School Lunch Program/Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act – The mandatory 1/2 cup of fruit or vegetable serving per meal has a chance to be repealed this year as many schools have issues with the execution, cost and limited choices for students. However, as this policy stands now, many children have access to fresh fruits and vegetables who otherwise wouldn’t.

These are just a few of the hot button issues that we were able to discus with lawmakers – knowing there are no easy answers and many sides to each story. The Representatives and their teams were eager to listen and ask questions. Some issues they were passionate about, and some we had to push – which is our job. The folks in Washington have a lot on their plate, and many factors for each issue to take into consideration. As we were told in an opening Keynote presentation, if we’re not at the table, we’re on the menu.

3 of many: Alex Jackson of Friedas Specialty Produce, Kami Weddle of Rousseau Farming Company, and Leah Brakke of Black Gold Farms marched The Hill.

3 of many: Alex Jackson of Friedas Specialty Produce, Kami Weddle of Rousseau Farming Company, and Leah Brakke of Black Gold Farms marched The Hill.

We are made up of many

“We” is made up of individuals. It’s not made up of other people who have more time on their hands to do “this sort of thing”. In order for our industry to thrive during challenging times, WE have to make our voices heard. It’s up to us. We have to be a team of many. We don’t all have to agree on the specifics of how everything is handled, but we do have to understand that we can each, individually make a difference.

Over 500 Produce Industry professionals traveled to Washington DC to support the industry.

Over 500 Produce Industry professionals traveled to Washington DC to support the industry. (Photo Credit: United Fresh)

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Farming with Integrity

It’s difficult to watch the news and social media without seeing commentary from popular bloggers, ads from chain restaurants, messages from big grocery retailers, comments from the agriculture sector and even claims from Dr. Oz regarding the right or wrong way to produce, source, label and eat food. It’s exhausting. It’s confusing. It changes every day. All of these conversations, accusations, and rhetoric make consumers question the integrity of experts, retailers and farmers. And, why wouldn’t it?

The Sexy Food Messaging Chipotle Effect

2010_02_Chipotle

Chipotle claims they have “Food with Integrity”. What they fail to mention, is that the integrity they talk about happens when it’s convenient, and when it’s profitable for them. From a business perspective – there’s nothing wrong with that. However, they don’t talk about what’s really going on. It’s a dangerous campaign that contributes to consumers not trusting the message of where and how the ingredients in their burritos are produced. Fortunately, consumers and producers have a voice. They asked some questions, provided proof and now Chipotle’s sexy food source messaging integrity has come into question. More recently, they are under-fire due to their procurement of beef from Australia instead of the U.S.

The Is It Really Gluten-Free Effect

A few weeks ago, there was a thread on Facebook regarding gluten-free oats. It started as a “gluten-free is just a hoax and dumb trend” type of discussion. Then, a grain producer spoke up saying it was not financially feasible to produce 100% gluten-free oats in a typical operation, and he was confident that even if a producer claimed that he had 100% gluten-free oats, there were probably some disinfecting short cuts that occurred. This upset a mother, who has a gluten-free house due to actual medical reasons. It was proof enough for her to be leery of growers and messaging. Her take-away was, what else are farmers hiding? It had nothing to do with her gluten-free choice. It had to do with integrity.

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Farmers and Integrity

Farmers take a massive amount of pride providing safe and plentiful food. If there is a short-cut on the farm like mixing some seed to finish a field, using an off label input application, filling a heavy truck, using a planter that’s not as clean as it should be because the rain is coming and there just isn’t time – it all seems small and justified and has been done 100 times before. The farmer sees the big picture, and understands the risks, most of which are extremely minimal. However, consumers don’t know that. They don’t understand why these thing happen, they don’t understand the consequences and it’s scary to them. And as farmers, we need to respect that.

Telling our own story, authentically. Showing what we really do, what we really have, and how we really work.

Above, is our booth at the United Fresh Produce Show in Chicago this past month. Telling our own story, about what we really do, who we really are, what we really have, and how we really work.

Consumers not only see through the short cuts and questionable messages and labels, but they are now in the business to call out producers and companies who waver in the slightest. Consumers don’t care about the impact of the farm, of the retailer or the restaurant if they find out that they’re being deceived.

Trusting The System

Here is Hawkinsville, GA as well as every load we deliver on every farm goes through a vigorous Quality Control check. It's our final way to make sure we're sending customers what we're telling them we're sending them.

In Hawkinsville, GA as well as every load we deliver, on every farm, goes through a vigorous Quality Control check. It’s our final way to make sure we’re sending customers what we’re telling them we’re sending them.

It’s not that a production practice or food choice is better or worse. It’s about being open and honest – and doing it with 100% integrity. It’s not always easy – the sale might be missed, the days might be long, some yield may be lost, the margin might be down and customers might be upset. With that said, it’s much easier to sleep at night when you know you did the right thing. It’s much easier to look in your customers eyes, and in the consumers face when you explain the real process and real reasoning of how your product was produced – even if it’s not perfect. Honesty is always more important than perfection when it comes to food information.

You also can be at ease when these smart and ambitious consumers – who have a copious amount of information (some of it is questionable at best) at their finger-tips can no longer poke holes through your claims. Eventually, with some hard work and complete diligence and transparency on our part, consumers might actually start to trust the system.

At the end of the day, you say what it is, and it IS what it IS.

Above is in Live Oak, FL.  There are many moving parts. However, what we put in that truck, is exactly what we say is in that truck - grown exactly how we said it was.

Above is in Live Oak, FL.
There are many moving parts. However, what we put in that truck, is exactly what we say is in that truck – grown exactly how we said it was.

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Keep Swimming, Keep Farming

Is it possible to just stop swimming? If you do just stop swimming, you’re probably by land, or in shallow water. If there is no land, and only deep water, only one thing can happen if you stop swimming. You have no choice, but to keep swimming.

Sometimes we have to remind ourselves to keep swimming. We also have no choice. We can’t freak out and complain or make excuses and just stop. We know we’re not even close to safety – or in our case, completing the season. We need to buckle down, keep calm, and just. keep. swimming. We need to just keep farming.

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Snow in the late spring is a possibility, and this year, a reality. We could, and did get several inches of rain when we have diggers in the field during harvest. We could and will have unexpected orders from a customer due to unforeseen circumstances. We could, and are just about done plating, but will get hit by a huge storm. We could be, and are, dog tired, exhausted and just completely burnt out – but we need to get those loads out at a particular time in a certain way – so we do it. We keep farming. We don’t have shallow water to save us.

We’re swimming all over the place. Some things are in our control, some things aren’t. What we do have control over, is that we just keep swimming.

Pearsall, TX – Harvest is continuing for both chips and red potatoes. The crop is about 1/4 harvested, so there’s still a ways to go.

Live Oak, FL – Harvest is underway here as well. There were some rain issues, but they kept digging and got the loads out. There should be good weather the next couple of days to help with the continued harvest.

Sometimes it's not easy - but even in the rain, if at all possible, they keep on digging.

Even in the rain, if at all possible, they keep on digging.

Hawkinsville, GA – There is great growing weather in Georgia. Irrigation is running on both potatoes and corn. Soybeans are also being planted. The harvest kick-off meeting happened early this week, and everything is ready to go!

Delhi, LA – Field work such as disking, chiseling, and bedding are all happening  to get ready to plant sweet potato slips soon.

Plant beds will soon be ready to be transplanted.

Sweet potato plant beds will soon be ready to be transplanted.

Arbyrd, MO – The crop is bulking with good vines so far. Plants are in full bloom with some tuber initiation. The sweet potato slips should arrive shortly as well for planting. There is a lot of action at the farm in Arbyrd.

The red crop is progressing and will be ready to harvest in about 4 weeks.

The red crop is progressing and will be ready to harvest in about 4 weeks.

Columbia, NC –  The potatoes are being taken care of with some fungicide and herbicide when and where necessary. The grading shed is about ready to go, and the harvesters are also freshly painted and set.

A beautiful chip field in Columbia planted about 2 months ago.

A beautiful chip field in Columbia planted about 2 months ago.

Charleston, MO – The crop is coming along in Charleston. Sweet potato ground is being bedded, the wash line is being put together and the new storage building is being worked on. The corn is up and soybeans will be planted tomorrow.

Rhodesdale, MD – There is excellent growing weather here. The crop is looking good this early. Irrigation is running and the plants about about 12″ – 14″ high. Corn is also being planted this week.

Winamac, IN – Red potato planting is complete, and chip planting should be wrapping up this week! It all depends on the storm that’s supposed to hit if it’ll get done!

Chip potatoes - 30 days after planting.

Chip potatoes – 30 days after planting.

Sturgis, MI – Planting before the storm is the focus in Michigan. The early Atlantics (a chip variety) are up, and the new crop is coming along.

Red River Valley – This will be a late planting season in the Valley. As soon as it’s dry, there seems to be more rain. The forecast looks promising for the next week. Planting will be double-time to try to manage the schedule.

Swimming is different than going for a run, or bike ride. You literally cannot stop. You can’t take a break until your safe. You can’t finish it later. You have to keep at it – regardless if the water is cold, if fish are biting your toes, or if you think your body can’t take it. You just keep swimming.

We can’t take a break either – until we have all of the potatoes in and then out of the ground. We have to keep farming when the weather is bad, when we’ve come across less than stellar conditions, when we think our bodies can’t take it, when our families haven’t seen us for a few days in daylight, and every other challenge along the way. We have no choice – we just keep farming.

Thanks Dory for the great advise.

 

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Posted in: Harvest, Planting
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Locally Grown

Wouldn’t it be great to live in a world where all of your food is grown right by where you live? Food grown locally is a great option, however, it’s not always possible at all times at all places with all foods. Unfortunately, food is not able to be grown fresh, everywhere, 12 month out of the year. Therefore, produce has to be shipped, stored and use innovative packing technology to ensure that it is available, fresh, and safe, everywhere, at any time. There are times, however, when food is fresh and local – and we’re excited to be a small part in the locally grown movement.

What is Local?

So, what really is local? Is it when it’s grown within the state boundaries? Is it within 500 miles? 200 miles? Is it in a specific geographic region? From what we’ve experienced, there is not one standard by which all companies, consumers and producers follow – however, we all agree that the more local, the better.

Locally grown food production does a lot of things. Mostly, from an environmental and economic sustainability perspective, it reduces “food miles”, which is the transportation it takes to move food across the country. To reduce those miles, saves those dollars and is much more environmentally sustainable. Locally grown food also is socially sustainable as it keeps the money and jobs in the local community – which is always a benefit, especially in smaller, agricultural communities. Locally grown food is also fresh, it has been handled fewer times, and the thought of eating something that grew in your backyard (or a state over, or 300  miles away) makes it just taste better.

We are a farm with 11 production areas, and an office in North Dakota. However, that doesn’t prevent us from growing locally as much as we can. We can’t do locally grown all the time. Here’s what we’re doing…locally.

Pearsall, TX – Harvest is underway in the chip and red fields  –  Here is where we currently have locally grown potatoes and are excited to expand the offerings when other locations start harvest!

Special bags so people know where their food is grown.

Special bags so people know where their food is grown.

Live Oak, FL – Harvest is just starting slowly in Florida. Chips should be going full steam in the next few days and reds shortly behind them.

Hawkinsville, GA – This crop is a little later than we’d like it to be, but nothing that we can’t handle. The crop is progressing, and the team is ready!

Arbyrd, MO – The weather hasn’t been exactly perfect in this area. There should be a much needed dry spell in a few days so the potatoes can catch up. Harvest preparations are in full gear with equipment checks and yield sampling taking place daily.

Beautiful chip field in bloom in Arbyrd. Complete row closure is expected by the end of the week.

Beautiful chip field in bloom in Arbyrd. Complete row closure is expected by the end of the week.

Delhi, LA - It’s full speed ahead in Delhi. In the fields, they are removing plastic and getting slips ready for planting in a few weeks.

Columbia, NC – The potatoes aren’t quite 2″ in diameter in NC. Everything is looking great. With some hot and dry weather along with proper care, this should be an amazing crop.

Chip potato plant in full bloom, 69 days after planting.

Chip potato plant in full bloom, 69 days after planting.

Charleston, MO – Warm weather and rain has been ideal for the Charleston crop. Harvester maintenance and repairs continue and the storage building construction is ongoing for the upcoming storage crop.

Rhodesdale, MD – Tuber initiation hit Rhodesdale last week. The late planted fields should start to emerge shortly as well. Crop progression is on schedule.

Early Atlantics (a chip variety) in Maryland.

Early Atlantics (a chip variety) in Maryland.

Winamac, IN – Hooking and emerging is happening through the production area in IN with both the chip and red crops.

Red River Valley – The seed has been cut, now the ground just has to dry out in order to plant. Everything is at a relative stand still until the weather warms up and it stays dry.

Grand Forks, ND – With harvest starting up, the Grand Forks office is in all out support mode. The transportation team is ensuring that there are trucks for each load, the sales team is making sure customers know what is happening, and everyone is doing their part to keep this operation going.

SustainingFocus_Logo

 

Not everything we do is local, but that’s okay because that’s reality. Not everything people eat is local, and that’s okay, because that’s reality. However, we’ve managed to find a way to be a small part of the ginormous food system and keep what we do as local as possible – red potatoes, seasonally, locally, where and when we can.

 

 

 

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Posted in: Black Gold Farms in the news, Harvest
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A Lot Can Happen

We’re at the cusp of harvest (and planting). This weekend, we get the diggers in the field – work out some regular pre-harvest kinks, and we’re officially in harvest mode – and we will be for 5 solid months.

In the months prior, even prior to planting, there have been meetings, classes, research, and details that we’ve gone over and over. We have a plan – that we think is even better than last years plan. We plant. We grow. Now, we’re about ready to harvest. Right now, the crops look great. The forecast is generally favorable for the last few days/weeks of the growing season. Our equipment is in tip top shape. Our customers have even checked out the fields, and are excited to get the fresh crop in their systems.

So, from now until the end of harvest, we just have to go through the motions and get the work done. Yeah. Right.

We know, based on experience that now is not the time to sit back and just do the fun harvest stuff. This is actually the time, where everyone has their eyes pealed, their cell phones charged, the weather stations on 24/7 and pick-ups are on the road checking fields & pivots. A lot can happen between now and harvest…regardless of location. Weather issues, unforeseen equipment breakdowns, accidents, home life that needs to be a priority, illness, the market drastically changing, are just a few things that could, and probably will happen.

A lot is happening on the farms right now:

Pearsall, TX – All of the fields continue to look very good. Harvest should begin officially on Sunday, April 27, 2014.  “We are excited about bringing in a very good crop this year.  Quality and yield should be above average if Mother Nature can just be good to us for the next 60 days.” – Lorenzo, Pearsall Agronomist

A chip plant at 81 days after planting. This plant needs about 20 more days. A lot can happen in 20 days.

A chip plant at 81 days after planting. This plant needs about 20 more days to get to its potentual. A lot can happen in 20 days.

Live Oak, FL - We had another 4 to 5 inches of rain this week with cool weather.  We are really looking forward for the Florida sun and heat this week. Yield sampling and keeping a close eye on the crop are daily activities. Harvest preparations are in full effect.

Hawkinsville, GA – We have been dealing with strong gusty winds and cool temperatures, totalizing about 5 inches within 2 events on our fields. April 2014 will be remembered as a wet month with anywhere between 8 to 9 inches of rain so far.

Water is standing in the rows. No damage, but anytime we get a 3" rain event, we know that there is a potential for a lot to happen.

Water is standing in the rows. No damage, but anytime we get a 3″ rain event, we know that there is a potential for a lot to happen.

Arbyrd, MO - The potato growing season is really starting to kick off. The young crop is progressing nicely. Corn planting started last week. We will have to wait for fields to dry out to finish bedding before we can finish up. We will also start bedding sweet potato fields and start planting dry-land soybeans.

Delhi, LA - The Easter rush kept the Delhi crew really busy shipping out sweet potatoes for a few weeks in the packing shed. They are also managing slips in the field.

Columbia, NC – It is wet in eastern North Carolina, and it looks to be wet for the next few days. The potato crop is looking great, with about a 90% stand.  Corn planting started last week, however, it looks like much of our production could be planted in May this year due to the wet weather.

Chip crop, 52 days after planting. A little over half way there - with this wet season there's a lot that can happen.

Chip crop, 52 days after planting. A little over half way there – with this wet season there’s a lot that can happen.

Charleston, MO – There was a light frost a few days ago, but now, winter looks to be completely over, and the crop is loving the 70 degree weather. Harvesters have recently been pulled into the shop for repairs and prep for a target harvest date of June 8th.

The pivots are tested regularly to ensure they are as efficient as possible.

The pivots are tested regularly to ensure they are as efficient as possible.

Rhodesdale, MD - Planting has been a little bit delayed due to the wet weather. The seed has arrived, and it’s just a wait to dry game. “We are hoping for continued favorable weather to speed the last remainder of planting.” – Henry, Rhodesdale Agronomist

Winamac, IN - About half of the crop has been planted. There’s still a lot that can happen during planting for the last half. Seed is still coming in, and so far, things are on track.

Sturgis, MI - Hopefully they saw the last of the snow in Michigan, so they can continue on on schedule with planting. We’re in week 3 – there’s a long way to go until harvest.

Grand Forks, ND - At the HQ office, there are probably more “consistent” days as compared to what happens on the farms. However, everyone at the office is always on the look out as to what all COULD happen, and how will we respond. What happens if a farm gets rained out? What happens if there are no trucks available? What happens if our customers need more product ASAP? What happens if we have to hire an entire new crew? There’s a lot that can happen that the team in the Grand Forks office are prepared to handle.

A lot can happen. We can plan and have our checklists completed – but there are still some things – even if we’re “so close”, that can happen which could completely alter our chances for success. So – for now, we make sure we control the controllables, plan for the unplanned, and do what we do best….plus a little prayer every now and then doesn’t hurt either. A lot can happen, and a lot is going to happen.

 

 

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Posted in: Harvest, Planting, Quick & Dirty
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Is It Worth It?

What we’ve set out to do, has taken a lot of dedication and commitment from a lot of people. Sometimes, at the end of the day, we ask ourselves: Is all of this worth it? Is the time away from home, the sore backs, the scouring of the spreadsheets, and the late nights watching the weather – is it worth it?

Here’s what we think is worth doing this week:

Pearsall, TX – The crop is looking great, and the potatoes are bulking up nicely. Help will be coming soon to get ready for harvest set-up.

Tuber set in early fields are averaging 8 to 10 tubers per plant.

Tuber set in early fields are averaging 8 to 10 tubers per plant.

Live Oak, FL – Everything is planted, pivots are running, the weather is cooperating, and the crop is looking to be exceptional.

Hawkinsville, GA – Planting is complete, and there are about 3” sprouts on the chip potatoes.  In the shop they’re getting harvest equipment ready to go!

Chip potatoes, planted about 45 days ago - just about half way there!

Chip potatoes, planted about 45 days ago – just about half way there!

Arbyrd, MO – Got caught up on planting from some not so great weather. Still working on getting reds and chip potatoes planted.

Columbia, NC – They are busy planting through the rain when they can. It’s just a weather waiting game for now.

Charleston, MO – They are also busy planting, as well as planting trials. The last of the seed should be there this week.

The planter going in Charleston.

The planter going in Charleston.

Rhodesdale, MD – There is a little bit of planting going on through the snow. All of the seed should be cut this week, and things are pretty much on schedule.

Delhi, LA – First official week on the new expanded farm! Everyone is getting acquainted but the field work has not slowed down. Seed beds are being put in the ground, and a lot of other cleanup and work is being done. The transition is going well, and we’re all excited to see where this takes us!

Planting sweet potato beds.

Planting sweet potato beds.

Sturgis, MI – Getting ready for planting once the weather lets up. Seed will be coming in this week. They are ready to get in the field!

Winamac, IN – Snowing off and on. Getting ready to get seed in this week, and planting equipment is ready to go.

Red River Valley – The last few loads of seed is headed out the door. The weather still looks like it’s the middle of winter, so it’ll be a while before any field work will take place.

Grand Forks, ND (HQ) – In the office, everyone is eagerly awaiting the chaos of harvest. The last of the off-season meetings are wrapping up, and now the focus is making sure all of our plans are able to be executed.

This past month we had a shift in our business with the acquisition of new sweet potato acreage that will increase our sweet potato offerings significantly. This was a big decision, it was a lot of work, and it will cause a lot of people to spend a lot of time and energy to make it a success – and the question will be – will it be worth it?

It’s hard to grasp what it means when we look back at the end of the year when we see everything we were able to produce and what all we were able to ship out to customers. It’s unreal to think about the amount of food we grow and how we work toward producing more with less, year after year. We’re so excited to be able to hire and retain the best in the industry, and to help our communities thrive where we live and work. We are able to  do all of this with just a few late nights and some sore muscles.

So, is it worth it? Yes. Yes it is.

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The Image of Agriculture

People have an image in their head of what they want certain things to look like. An image of vacation to one may be skiing on the mountain and to another it’s sitting on the beach. Some people’s image of the perfect meal is steak, red potatoes and asparagus with a nice red wine, while others is pizza and a Bud Light. Neither of these images are right, nor are they wrong – they’re just different.

So, why is there an expected and perceived perfect image of farming? Some farmers have huge farms with multiple locations. Some farm just a few acres by their homes. Some farmers involved in animal ag production have huge facilities. Some farmers are totally organic. Some farmers grow one crop, while others have several crops. Which of these images are correct? We would argue, that there is no one perfect image of agriculture. We would also argue, that we don’t want one. We want choices. We want choices of where we go on vacation and choices on what we have for dinner.

Who Defines That Image?

There is a romantic image of agriculture that companies are trying to, and successfully leverage. The image of “back to the way we used to do it” farming methods make people feel good. In reality, it’s damaging to farmers and ranchers when there are consumers who believe that the old romantic image is the way that agriculture needs to revert back to. It’s additionally harmful when powerful and trendy companies are bolstering that romantic image while attacking all other relevant and realistic images of agriculture.

One of the first images of our farm. This is the way we used to do it.

One of the first images of our farm. This is the way we used to do it. Open cab, multiple times across the field, lots of disease, low yields. It looks romantic, but it’s not realistic…or sustainable.

Chipolte has produced what they call, “an original comedy series” named “Farmed and Dangerous” which is a follow-up to their “Scarecrow” campaign. It continues on with the story from a corporate farmers perspective and how Big Ag responds to criticism,  yet they continue their unsustainable way of producing and marketing food. The image they are perpetuating is that farmers are large, corporate entities who have no moral backbone, and just sit around in suits in big offices. It also goes on to condemn the progressiveness of today’s food producer while making fun of the fact that farmers are now starting to work to protect their image – individually as a farm, and as an overall industry.

More on their website http://www.chipotle.com/en-us/Default.aspx

Paying close attention to how others are leading the way in defining their own romantic image of what they believe food production should look like, will help those actually involved in agriculture be better at telling their stories and shaping a realistic and authentic image. Yes, watching these videos might help their analytics and reach a little bit, but it’s your choice as to where you buy your super-sized burritos. (Hint: Qdoba)

The Image of Sustainability

There are many non-farm people that are uncomfortable and don’t understand when they see different images of today’s farmer or rancher. The images of expensive machinery, people in slacks and Polo’s, huge facilities, nice offices, and science-based research programs being run on the farm, are not as romantic as the image of the guy in overalls and a pitch-fork. That image of all the “big, expensive, science-y stuff” to consumers represents corporate farming, large profits, a disconnect from the land, and an unsustainable and unethical farming operation. Understanding what’s actually going on in these images equates to progress, efficiency, better farmers, and being able to farm year after year – which yes, also requires a profit. It’s not a wrong image, it’s just a narrative that needs to be told by the people living it.

Trucks & tractors. This is what we spend our money on to increase our sustainability efforts.

Trucks & tractors on our farm. Come and visit and you’ll see a lot of equipment. You’ll also hear why we need all of it.

What about the millions of dollars that went into producing and promoting this “entertaining comedy” about factory farmers being unethical, money hungry corporate-types who are unsustainable? What else could the corporate burrito factory have done to be progressive in their sustainability efforts? Could they also find a more sustainable way to make and sell over-sized stuffed burritos without insulting an alternative option?

Perhaps they could vertically integrate where they farm their own ingredients how they want, locally, by cities they have a stores in. Another option would be to support organic and urban farming research to develop ways to increase yields and find ways to grow in non-traditional growing regions and seasons. They could start a scholarship fund for their employees to go to collage and get a better understanding of agriculture and how food production works.

A huge part of our sustainability efforts have included expanding so we grow potatoes where our customers are, doing continuous research for non-traditional growing situations, and encouraging continual education and training. We have been able to do this, without insulting others.

None of that is happening, that Chipolte talks about. However, it looks like they threw an epic premier and launch party that they proudly showed off on Facebook.

F&D_3

Support What You’re Into

When a ginormous burrito making factory  entertains their customers, who don’t have a clear and accurate image of what agriculture is, at the expense of farmers with crazy, disrespectful, critical, harmfully misguided messages for entertainment purposes, it’s hard not to get defensive.

There is not one perfect image of agriculture. There is not one perfect image of what everyone should eat. There’s not one perfect image of a burrito shop. People have a right to eat what they want and support how they want it to be produced – it’s a choice, and they support it every time they decide to purchase something.

So What?

The Black Gold Farms image is completely different from other farms. It’s different then the potato grower down the road. It’s different than our friends who have animals. It’s different from our neighbors who only grow organic produce. Because of these differences, people are able to have options. There is no right or wrong option and there is no right or wrong image. So, as food producers, we have to keep celebrating these different images.

Black Gold Farms in Texas. This does not look like our farm in Florida. There's not 1 image to represent who we are.

Black Gold Farms in Texas. This does not look like our farm in Florida or our corporate office in Grand Forks or anywhere else. There is not one image to represent who we are as a farming organization.

Our CEO in the corner office wearing a suit* will be happy to tell you anything anyone wants to know about what we do and why we do it. He’s not big on creating one perfect, definite image. He just wants to grow potatoes, and to make sure we are able to do it for years to come.

The CEO drove this truck with the attached planter 1,000 miles from ND to MO in 1986, the first year we had a farm that wasn't in North Dakota.

Our CEO drove this truck with the attached planter over 1,000 miles from North Dakota to Missouri in 1986, the first year we grew potatoes outside North Dakota. One image, we’re very proud of.

* His suit = Pants from Wal-Mart and a Polo from 1995. He also probably needs a haircut. But, the coffee pot will be on.

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