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

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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One Shot

The Winter Olympics are here! All eyes are on Sochi (Except for Bob Costas’s). The Olympic Games bring out the best in people from all over the world. It allows us all to take a step back and see that regardless of where we’re from, how we talk, and what we believe – that if we put in the time,  work hard,  are passionate, and have the needed support, along with a little God-given talent, it’s possible to be the best in the world.

The athletes competing in the Olympics have worked their entire lives for this opportunity. Some of the athletes have been in multiple Olympics, and for some, this is their only chance to compete on a world stage. From the age of 5 or 6 years old, these athletes dreamed that one day, if they worked hard enough, they would be on that podium, and their National Anthem would play.

One shot…That one shot is often won or lost by less than a second, by one slight wrong move of a foot, or by a faulty piece of equipment. Their game and focus could be off due to an illness, due to an injury, due to conditions that they’re not prepared for, or any other unforeseen outside events.

We’re not representing our country for the Olympics, we don’t have to wait 4 years for redemption if we miss, and hopefully we’re never going to be too old to try again. While we may not (all) have superior athletic talent, we think farming is very similar. However, our One Shot isn’t the Olympics. Our One Shot is at planting.

We have one shot, every year to get it right. Our shot may not be affected by working out in the gym or focusing on our diets – but we do study our competition, we develop different strategies for different situations, we work in the office in the off season, we go to classes, we work in the shop to perfect our equipment, and we have the best support team we can find to coach. A gold medal is always the goal. We won’t know if we achieve that gold medal until the last load is shipped to our customer and they’re happy.

The opening ceremonies are over – Now, we take our One Shot for the Gold:

Pearsall, TX – Planting is COMPLETE for the year. In Texas, they had their shot, now it’s just a waiting game.

2-10-14 Elizondo

Red Lasodas in Texas are just about ready to emerge.

Live Oak, FL – Planting is continuing in Florida. Everything is on track despite some wet weather. The first planted field already has 2″ sprouts.

Chip potatoes, 18 days after planting

Hawkinsville, GA – Planting started last Friday. They did have to take a few days off due to rain, but should get back on track with a little extra work this week.

ATL in GAH seed shed

Seed potato pieces

Arbyrd, MO – Seed is coming in and once the temperatures are right, they’ll start to cut, and planting will be underway!

Columbia, NC – The winter weather has everyone here just trying to stay safe and warm. Seed is starting to arrive and they’ll be ready once the weather lets them.

Charleston, MO – A crew from Charleston spent the week in Louisiana for Sweet Potato Agronomy training. They are also in the shop putting the final touches on planting equipment.

Rhodesdale, MD - They are dealing the winter weather and doing projects in the shop for now. The final agronomy planning meeting for the year is this week as well.

Sturgis, MI – Shop work is being done to keep everyone warm. There are also several conferences that people are attending this week.

Winamac, IN –  Hopefully this next week it will start to thaw-out. They were at a career fair in Purdue and got a lot of work completed in the shop this week.

Oak Grove, LA – The entire sweet potato team was in Louisiana this week for the annual sweet potato agronomy training and planning meetings.

Thank you to the LSU Agronomy Center for being our hosts.

Red River Valley - Seed is being shipped out to the other farms when the weather allows. Equipment is being shipped down to Texas for the season.

Grand Forks, ND - Everyone in Grand Forks is anxiously preparing for the season to be in full-gear. Our computer systems are being upgraded, people are being hired and trained. We're making sure our customers are taken care of and that we can service them.

We get one shot every year to win the gold. Olympic athletes get one shot every 4 years. We do what we can to prepare, they do what they can to prepare. Blood, sweat and tears go into this one shot - on the playing field, and in the potato field.

 

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Posted in: Culture, Planting
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A Lifetime of Learning

There is a short amount of time between the end of harvest and the beginning of planting. This is when where we are able to take a step back, and reflect, plan and learn.

Field Work Gap

This “field-work” gap is when several industry and educational opportunities are available to participate in. There are annual meetings, trade-shows and other events that help us learn what’s new in the marketplace, what the industry is doing, what’s worked, and what hasn’t worked. More importantly, these experiences let us connect with other producers where we can all learn from each other.

TEPAP: The Executive Program for Agricultural Producers This is an intensive week long program that different producers from all over the U.S. are able learn from the best professors in the U.S. Everything from Strategic Management, to Human Resources, to Financial Ratios, to Marketing and PR and everything in between. The sessions are packed full of usable information, and the networking is something you could never get anywhere else. These are producers who understand that they can never stop learning.

TEPAP: The Executive Program for Agricultural Producers
This is an intensive week long program that producers from all over the U.S. learn from the best professors in the U.S. Everything from Strategic Management, to Human Resources, to Financial Ratios, to Marketing and PR and everything in between. The sessions are packed full of usable information, and the networking is something you could never get anywhere else. These are producers who understand that they can never stop learning.

Being committed to a lifetime of learning is the key to being better. Without that commitment, we won’t be able to be more efficient, more effective, or grow more food. Doing what we did yesterday just because it worked does not mean that’s what we should be doing tomorrow.

Lesson 1: We Have One Shot

One lesson we have learned – through classes, conferences, shows and by experience, is that each year, at each farm, on each acre – we only have one shot. It takes a lifetime of learning, not to screw up that one shot…that one shot to get the right ground, to use the right seed, to use the proper inputs, the right equipment, the right pricing, the right timing and with the right people. We have learned (sometimes the hard way) that this one shot has got to be perfect.

Here’s what we’re doing this week, because of what we’ve learned over a lifetime.

Pearsall, TX -  We finished planting the first field of chip potatoes and we’re on the second red potato field of the season. Besides potatoes, the rotational wheat crop is planted and fertilizing and land prep like bedding is being done.

Planting potatoes in Pearsall, TX

Planting potatoes in Pearsall, TX

Live Oak, FL – It’s been a little too wet to do much in the field, but fumigation will be wrapped up once we’re able to get back out there. All of the seed cutting equipment is ready to go, while seed will be showing up the end of this week. Planting should start next week.

Hawkinsville, GA  - The potato ground is getting ready for planting. It has been wet, but it’ll be ready in time for seed to arrive in a couple of weeks. Soil sample results are coming back, and field assignments are being finalized.

Arbyrd, MO - The annual crop planning meeting was last week. We will be at the corn and soybean conference this week to learn about how to improve our commodity crop production.

Columbia, NC - In the shop, the seed equipment and the planters are being set up. The new tractors are in and the old ones have moved out.

Charleston, MO – Equipment from Winamac is starting to come in for the season. The crop plan is about done and seed cutting and handling equipment are about ready to go. The last few sweet potatoes are being hauled out to make room for potato seed.

Rhodesdale, MD – It’s been too wet to do much outside. Inside, they are working on inventory, equipment rental arrangements and reviewing soil samples.

Sturgis, MI – The shop has been busy with equipment repairs and rebuilds. The acreage and the team for the season is getting finalized.

Winamac, IN – It’s been cold and snowy in Indiana, so the shop has been full of rebuilding and equipment repair. Several pieces of equipment are being prepared to be shipped out to other locations.

Oak Grove, LA - It’s been pretty wet, so there really hasn’t been much field work going on. Most of the crew will be at the Annual Sweet Potato Conference in New Orleans learning about the new innovations in the sweet potato industry.

Red River Valley - A harvesters is being shipped to Arbyrd, and the planting equipment is getting ready to be worked on. Seed is being shipped out on a regular basis to the farms, and that will last for several weeks. It’s been very cold, so the potatoes in the bins need some extra care.

Grand Forks, ND – Everyone at the Grand Forks office is in full on service mode, making sure the farms utilize their one shot, and get the season off to a great start.

Potato Expo

There were several people who attended the Annual Potato Expo in San Antonio, TX last week. This event has taken place for years, and many of the same people attend year after year – however, it’s a part of that lifetime of learning.

A few things that we learned at Potato Expo that will make us better and more prepared for our next One Shot:

“The GMO conversation will continue to be a topic of discussion.” – Gregg Halverson, CEO

“Category data is more important than ever , suppliers must know the data to connect with consumers and distributors. Fact based decision making is powerful.” – Glen Reynolds, National Director, Produce Sales

“New technology, specifically the use of new types of data, will drive productivity increases in potato production.” – Eric Halverson, EVP

“There is a lot of work and money being spent to get GMO potatoes commercially available in the US. The biggest hurdle will be getting the Processors and public to accept and buy GMO everyone is scare to commit.” – Chris Hopkins, Southeast Group Manager

There are several sessions at the Annual Potato Expo that people can go to - some sessions are specific to certain segments, and some are overall industry related.

There are several sessions at the Annual Potato Expo that people can go to – some sessions are specific to certain segments, and some are overall industry related. (Photo credit: US Potato Board, on the Potato Expo Facebook page)

A Lifetime

It’s taken us a lifetime to get where we are. It’s taken trial & error, an investment in education, and even time out of our personal lives to attend events, and learn from the best. This isn’t something that will stop either, at least, not in our lifetime. Things are always changing and there are always different and better ways to do things – we just have to learn how.

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Top 10 of 2013

Another year is in the books – and what a great year it was! We worked hard, we learned a lot, and even had a little fun along the way. A big congrats and thank you to everyone in the Black Gold Farms family along with our partners, our suppliers, and customers.

Here are just 10 things of slight significance that occurred this year. This doesn’t come close to the amazing work that happened everyday on the farms, in the sheds, on the tractors and at the offices. The list could go up to 100, however we don’t have time because we have to get seed shipped to Pearsall, TX and start all over again.

TOP 10 Things that happened at Black Gold Farms in 2013

10. Blogger Fun -  Telling our story is something that we love to do, and it’s our responsibility to do it. This summer, we had seven food bloggers come out to Arbyrd, MO and experience potato harvest. The conversations ranged from what it’s like to farm with your family to GMOs and chemicals. Everything was on the table, and the bloggers became a little more connected with where their food comes from – but more importantly, we learned what information we need to talk about and how to talk about it.

9. Facility Expansions -  In East Grand Forks, MN, our facility got a major facelift – from an old potato storage facility, to a potato storage facility with state of the art ventilation and monitoring equipment with multiple packing options. It has changed the landscape of what all we can do in the Red River Valley.

Red potato harvest in the Red River Valley - Potatoes are washed, stored and pack in our renovated shed in East Grand Forks, MN

Red potato harvest in the Red River Valley – Potatoes are washed, stored and pack in our renovated shed in East Grand Forks, MN

The other major project was expanding our space in Arbyrd, MO. This location can now handle a significantly larger volume as well as new permanent office space. This expansion sets us up for our anticipated growth and also will put us in a great position to be a year around supplier in the red and specialties markets.

These are just 2 of many major projects across the farms. Each location has had projects that will help us diversify, help up protect our inputs and crops as well as help us be more sustainable.

8. Black Gold Gardens -  A project called Black Gold Gardens was launched this year in a few locations. A small space by the farm was selected to grow a garden. With the help of local youth groups, such as FFA and 4-H, we were able to plant and harvest the gardens, and donate all of the fresh produce to local food pantries. Our goal is to replicate this project at other farms, and help our communities as well as get kids involved with agriculture.

BG_Gardens_4c

7. Information Technology -  We have made a commitment in regards to data and information technology. All of our systems as well as our processes and procedures from an IT perspective, are going through a major over-haul. There are multiple sources where we get and provide data, and now we need to ensure that we use that data to be better farmers. It’s an innovation – with information.

6. Emphasis on Safety -  Every week, on our all-company conference call, the last thing that is said is “Be Safe”.  Safety now has dedicated resources to ensure our people, guests and everyone else is safe while they are on, or around Black Gold Farms working areas. Each location has safety committees and they also hold weekly safety meetings.  This is a huge area of focus, and will continue to be.

5. Global GAP Certification -  The GlobalGAP certification processes covers issues like traceability, fertilizer application and containment, responsible water usage, pest management, soil management, and everything in between. Being GlobalGAP Certified makes sure that what we have in place meets or exceeds the standard for safe and sustainable food production. We went through this process and made all necessary adjustments on the farms. In 2013, we became 100% certified – after each farm was audited. This is just the one way for us to prove our commitment to sustainability.

GlobalGAP

4. The Black Gold Farms Culture -  Black Gold Farms has always had a unique culture, but it was never defined. During a strategy retreat this summer, the leadership team dug deep and defined 7 Aspects of Culture at Black Gold Farms based on our history, our present and where we want to be in the future:

At the Annual Planning Conference, each Aspect of Culture was described, along with an example of someone from Black Gold Farms living that aspect.

At the Annual Planning Conference, the Aspects of Culture were described, along with an example of someone from Black Gold Farms who lives that aspect everyday.

  • Values – This is where loyalty, community service, family focus, and kindness come in. These values along with others are who Black Gold Farms is.
  • Customer – Without our customers we wouldn’t be able to do what we do. It is our main focus everyday to make sure our customers are taken care of, and successful.
  • Excellence – Sometimes it’s easy to look the other way or to take short-cuts. At Black Gold Farms, Excellence needs to be a standard and not an exception. Do it right, do it better, the expectation is excellence.
  • Passion – Not everyone is passionate about the same thing. Some are passionate about data, some are passionate about agronomy, and some are passionate about being outside.  There can be some long days and frustrating moments, but it’s the passion that keeps us going and keeps us coming back. We love, that we love what we do.
  • Team Our business model cannot be successful with just one person doing the work. There are so many components, geographies and specialties. Teams are critical. We work as a team, and we succeed as a team.
  • Transparency –Everything that happens affects something else. There is no room or reason for anyone to keep information to him or herself. Transparency is something that we expect, and is expected of us – internally and with our customers. Being transparent and knowing that there are no surprises helps everyone be successful.
  • Innovation – If we don’t innovate, we don’t get better, we don’t become more efficient, or more profitable, or more sustainable. This must be a part of everything, and we must always look to be better – from our business model, to equipment, to agronomy, to finance, and every other piece that touches what we do. Innovation at Black Gold Farms started in 1928 when Hallie Halverson planted his first crop in Forest River, and has continued ever since.

3. Value Added Potatoes -  Our first ever value added potato product was launched this summer: a clamshell container with petite potatoes and 3 different McCormick Produce Partners seasoning options. This project involved many teams – from agronomy to packaging facilities to sales and marketing and even accounting. We have been so excited about the success and customer feedback as well as McCormick’s commitment to partner with us for other exciting projects. We were also very honored to be nominated for a PMA Impact Award. This was a big highlight this year, and we see it as an exciting opportunity to be a leader is this market.

BlackGoldMockUp_021213

2. Giving Back -  This is the second year each farm team was encouraged to give back to their communities. This is only a small part of what each group does and it doesn’t even show what each individual does on their own time. It is our responsibility to ensure our communities thrive.

1. Setting Up For Whatever Is Next -  We’ve always been known for the chances we take. This is what we thrive on. There are so many things that we’re looking forward to in 2014 that we already have a jump start on –new varieties that we’re testing, new partnership opportunities in development, promotional programs we’re creating with customers to increase potato consumption, consumer research we’re conducting, industry events that we’re going to be involved in and so much more. We’re ready and set for whatever comes at us. It’s our culture, and it’s who we are.

What else happened in 2013 that was significant and not on this list?

Related: Top 10 of 2012

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Posted in: Black Gold Farms in the news, Culture
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A Tradition Of Innovation

Tradition_Innovation_logo_FINAL4c

Tradition: A way of thinking, behaving, or doing something that has been used by the people in a particular group for a long time.

Innovation: The act or process of introducing new ideas, devices or methods.

This year, the theme for our Annual Planning Conference reflected on what we’ve done in the past to get us to where we are today – the changes we’ve made along the way, the ideas we’ve had and the chances we’ve taken. It doesn’t signify something specific that happened in 2013 or what is going to happen in 2014. This theme also calls out for everyone in the organization to continue on with that tradition and remain innovative. Innovation cannot stand still. It must always be a part of who we are as a company and especially who we are as farmers. Agriculture is one of the most innovative industries there is – and continual improvement is crucial. Innovation comes from everyone – on the farm, in the office, in the tractor, on the grading line, planting test plots, analyzing financials, hiring the best and brightest, to bringing product to market – and will continue to come, and must come from everyone involved.

Innovation is one of several aspects of the Black Gold Farms culture. Many have made or are going to make a dedicated effort to really live that aspect of culture.

Innovation is one of several aspects of our culture. Many people have made or are going to make a dedicated effort to live that aspect of the Black Gold Farms culture.

All full time employees came up to North Dakota for 3 days of learning, teaching and growing. It was a jam-packed conference where we talked at length about how the past season ended up, our plans for next season, what the Black Gold Farms aspects of culture are, as well as specifics from employee benefits to taste testing different varieties of potatoes. There were general sessions, breakout sessions and most importantly informal conversations during meals, in the halls and wherever else people ended up.

IMG_6195

A special lunch was held this year to celebrate all of our farms becoming GlobalGAP certified. Another kind of innovation that we’re very proud of.

Once everyone went back home, it was back to work – Hopefully, with a little more energy and enthusiasm than when they left. Specifically, everyone should be thinking about the different innovations they can bring to the farm.

The very first major snow storm happen to occur during the conference. For some, it was the first time they saw snow. To them, an auto-start was an amazing innovation.

The very first major snow storm happen to occur during the conference. For some, it was the first time they saw snow.

Our hope is that we continue with our Tradition of Innovation for years to come.

Here’s where a ton of innovation comes from – the farms:

Pearsall, TX – All of the field work should be completed and tablestock seed will be arriving tomorrow. Chip seed will be coming in soon after that. It’s hard to believe but planting will be starting in about a month!

Live Oak, FL – In the fields, they are doing tillage work as well as fumigation. In the shop they are putting the finishing touches on seed cutting equipment and planters.

Hawkinsville, GA  -  The rain has cause soughum harvest to be put on pause. However, by next week, that will be wrapped up. They are also working ground where they can to prepare fields for the potato crop. Seed cutting equipment and planters are getting ready to go!

Arbyrd, MO - The combines are ready to be shipped out and other pieces of equipment are getting worked on. 

Columbia, NC - They are finishing up completely overhauling a planter and rebuilding the seed cutter. They are also shipping tractors and machinery out to other farms.

Charleston, MO -  After a big snowfall, not much field work is being done. They are working on the planters and seed cutters in the shop.

Rhodesdale, MD – It’s been pretty wet in Rhodesdale, so they are doing deep cleaning in the shop and on equipment. The safety team is set and ready to put together a plan for the year.

Sturgis, MI – Tractors are getting ready to be shipped out, and the research data from this past year is also being compiled.

Winamac, IN – They are getting ready to rebuild harvest and planting equipment. The land for 2014 is just about finalized as well.

Oak Grove, LA - The harvesters are getting shipped out and tractors will be shipping this week as well. Equipment is getting broken down and ready to clean now that harvest is complete.

Red River Valley - They are busy shipping out potatoes from the East Grand Forks facility. Most of the land is also in place for 2014.

Grand Forks, ND – Now that the Planning Conference is over, year end is approaching. Accounting is busy getting details put together, and all other departments and functions are tweaking the 2014 plan. There’s an anticipation in the air, knowing that we start all over again in less than a month. 

Innovation is a part of our culture – it always has been, and hopefully always will be. Thank you to everyone who put the Planning Conference together and for everyone who attended. It was the best one yet. 2014 is looking to be an amazing year, with new challenges, new goals and new innovations.

One of our favorite traditions, is announcing the Horizon Award winners. These people are nominated on by their peers. Miri Reyes and Matt Jahnke were the very deserving winners this year. Congratulations!!

One of our favorite traditions, is announcing the Horizon Award winners. They are nominated on by their peers. Miri Reyes and Matt Jahnke were the very deserving winners this year. Congratulations!!

Check out Facebook to see more pictures of our Tradition of Innovation Annual Planning Conference.

Giving Back 2013

Another part of our tradition aside from innovation is Giving Back. Here is a small sample of what each farm team did this year to give back to their communities. Everyone at the conference voted for a team to receive an extra $1,000 from the Halverson Family Foundation to give back to a cause of their choice.

This year, Pearsall, TX was chosen, and they will be buying toys for kids at the San Antonio Children’s Hospital for Christmas. This particular organization has directly affected some of the Black Gold Farms family.

Here are the links to get more information on what each team did:

Pearsall, TX, Live Oak, FL, Hawkinsville, GA, Arbyrd, MO Farm & Arbyrd, MO Pack Shed

Charleston, MO, Columbia, NC, Rhodesdale, MD, Winamac, IN & Sturgis, MI.

Red River Valley Farm Team, Grand Forks Office, Executive Team &  Oak Grove, LA

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Every Step Counts

Last week, several members of the Black Gold Farms team attended the Produce Marketing Association’s biggest event, Fresh Summit in New Orleans, LA. This show packs in all of the newest innovations in marketing, distribution, sustainability, food safety, and all other factors that help us as an industry grow, harvest, sell, distribute and encourage consumers to eat more and more fresh produce – consistently, safely and enjoyably.

Small Fish, Big Sea

We have been attending this event for a few years – we have walked around, looked at displays, studied new products and packaging, we’ve learned from experts in the industry,  and most importantly met amazing people. We have been a pretty small fish in a huge produce sea just trying to find our way. However, we’ve taken the time to keep our eyes and ears open to learn what the industry is doing, discover what it needs, and how we can help fill some of those gaps with our skills, goals, values and passions. We’re gaining ground, and the possibilities are really endless to what we are able to do.

(John H., Gregg H., Yvonne H., Glen R., Jason C.)  During a General Brunch Session, a key insight that we learned, and have seen first-hand is that "Change is slow - Until it isn't".

(John H., Gregg H., Yvonne H., Glen R., Jason C.)
During a General Brunch Session, a key insight that we learned, and have seen first-hand is that “Change is slow – Until it isn’t”.

We Can Contribute

The highlight of this event for us as a company, was that we were nominated for an Impact Award. We were up against some amazing, innovate, “big brand” products and companies that have been in the produce business for years. While we didn’t win, it has given us that added energy to keep working, keep innovating, and keep finding those solutions that will help increase overall produce consumption – specifically – red potato consumption.

    Our potato clam-shells with McCormick seasoning packs were up for the PMA Impact Award, and got to be displayed in the Trendsetters section of the convention.

Our potato clam-shells with McCormick seasoning packs were up for the PMA Impact Award, and got to be displayed in the Trendsetters section of the convention.

Now that we’re back at the office or back on the farm – we reflect not only about what we can do as an industry, or as Black Gold Farms as an organization, but what can each of our locations can do, and what is each member of our team capable of to make sure we continually grown and advance the organization and in turn, the produce industry. Every person matters – Every step counts.

What We Do

Even if what we do, and how we contribute to the industry isn’t as sexy as what consumers see on TV commercials or what they see at the grocery store every day – we do what we can on a daily basis not just to do more, but to do better. This is what we’re doing this week to contribute:

Pearsall, TX –  It’s hard to believe, but the seed shed is getting ready to receive seed and they are working ground to get ready for planting which will begin in January.

Live Oak, FL –  Soybean harvest started in Florida this week! They are also in the shop painting conveyors, getting tractors in and will start bedding potato ground.

Hawkinsville, GA – Peanut harvest is complete! Now they will focus on grain sorghum harvest which will start up in a couple of weeks. In the mean time, they will work peanut ground for the 2014 potato crop.

Arbyrd, MO – Bedding potato ground, getting ready for soybean harvest, and waiting for the last of the corn crop to dry down is keeping the crew in Arbyrd busy. Last week, they also completed sweet potato harvest!

Columbia, NC – They are helping out neighbors with soybean harvest as well as putting down lime onto some wheat and potato ground. In they shop there is work being done on planters to get ready for the 2014 season.

Charleston, MO – With just a few more acres to dig, the sweet potato crop is doing great in the new storage facility. They are also doing a lot of prep work for the 2014 season such as cleaning equipment and starting to bed potato ground.

Oak Grove, LA - Sweet potato harvest is moving along. They should finish up this week i Louisiana.

Rhodesdale, MD – In the field, they are planting wheat and working ground, while in the shop they are cleaning equipment. The team in Rhodesdale is also working on their Giving Back program, which should be a huge success.

Sturgis, MI –  CHIP HARVEST IS COMPLETE! Another successful season is in the books in Sturgis! They have a few more fingerlings to harvest, but everyone has done an amazing job this year – Congrats to all!

The last truck headed out of the Sturgis farm!

The last truck headed out of the Sturgis farm!

Winamac, IN – There are still a few acres of chip potatoes in Winamac, but harvest should be wrapped up within a week.

Red River Valley - It has been a wet and long harvest season for the crew in North Dakota. Hopefully they’ll be able to get the last few red and chip seed acres dug before the real frost sets in. If we have good weather, harvest should be complete by the weekend. Fingers crossed!

The are doing what they can - even in the snowy fields to get every potato dug in the Valley.

The are doing what they can – even in the snowy fields to get every potato dug in the Valley.

Grand Forks Office - With 2013 wrapping up, and 2014 planning going on, the crew at the office is visiting with customers reviewing this season and planning for next season. Researching, planning, and doing everything else we can to find ways to improve, be more innovative, more sustainable, and more efficient is on high priority.

It’s all Farming

There is a perception that farming is what happens at harvest, and that getting food to the table is what happens in the stores. We would argue that farming, which is what we do – includes not only happens in the field and in the shop – but it also what happens at the office, in board rooms, on conference calls, and even at big trade shows and even fancy meetings.

The US Potato Board held their annual strategy meeting at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa, CA. We supplied several potatoes for them to use and work with in different potato dishes.

The US Potato Board held their annual strategy meeting at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa, CA. We supplied several potatoes for them to use and work with to showcase different potato dishes.

Every step counts. From the farm to the store. Regardless if you call it farming or not, we’re honored to be a part of so many steps to get food to consumers. We are a part of it by understanding and supporting what the industry is doing, we are a part of it by farming in areas and growing crops that make sense, we make sure our team understands that individually, they are each a part of the entire process. We’re a part of it in so many ways, and we have to understand and respect – that every step counts.

(Damon J., Yvonne H., Leah B., Glen R., David B., Keith G., Jason C. - Not pictured: Coach Gregg H.)  Every step matters - Including our amazing team the "Spud Runners" who ran the PMA Foundation for Talent 5K.

(Damon J., Yvonne H., Leah B., Glen R., David B., Keith G., Jason C. – Not pictured: Coach Gregg H.)
Every step matters – Including our amazing team the “Spud Runners” who ran the PMA Foundation for Talent 5K.

 

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We Grow More Than Potatoes

On our website, you see that ‘We Grow More Than Potatoes’.  A few years ago, we would say that because yes, we grew potatoes, but we also valued the growth of people, of growing careers, growing communities and growing our partners, vendors and customers and our overall business.

Screen shot 2013-10-02 at 9.21.27 AM

Now, this is still true, and may be even truer than ever – however, we also technically now do grow….More Than Potatoes.  Chip and red potato harvest season is wrapping up – with the last few acres being dug in Indiana, Michigan, and the Red River Valley – However, we’re also either finishing up, we’re in the middle of, or we are just starting our other crops like Sweet Potatoes, Sorghum, Soybeans, Corn, Wheat and Peanuts.

Here’s what we’re growing more of around the farms:

Live Oak, FL –  Soybeans are about 15 – 21 days out. In the shed they are repainting the scale, going over equipment, disking land for next year, and working on soil sampling for lime requirements.

Hawkinsville, GA – Peanut harvest started yesterday! Conditions are good for harvest and inverting – vines are great.

When a customer asked us to try our hand in peanuts a few years ago - we decided it was a great fit and now it's become a great crop for the Georgia crew.

When a customer asked us to try our hand in peanuts a few years ago – we decided the timing, geography and people all fit and now it’s become a great crop for the Georgia crew.

Arbyrd, MO – A land partner and vendor appreciation event was held this week.  They also are busy loading sweet potatoes, as harvest is almost half done. They got all early corn thrashed and sorghum will start tomorrow.

A great quote from a Land partner at event, that encompass growing more than potatoes: “I feel like I’m a part of Black Gold Farms, now that I understand how I fit into the channel of food production”.

Sweet Potato harvest in Arbyrd fits in perfectly with our rotation, the geography, our skill set and what our customers want.

Sweet Potato harvest in Arbyrd fits in perfectly with our rotation, the geography, our skill set and what our customers want.

Columbia, NC – In preparation for the 2014 potato season, they are hauling dirt into the low spots in fields as well as hauling lime for potatoes & wheat. They are also turbo-plowing corn stalks.

Charleston, MO – Getting the sweet potato storage facility all ready for harvest which will begin there in about 2 weeks. The Charleston land partner and vendor event will be this week as well.

Sturgis, MI – They are down to the short rows in the chip potato fields. It’s a race to the finish. The test run for fingerling harvest will be later this week.

Winamac, IN –  Wrapping up potato harvest in Indiana as well.

Oak Grove, LA – Sweet Potato harvesting started, and things are going good despite some rain. Potatoes are bulking, and they are working on yield samples. Getting ready for the GAP audit next week.

Sweet Potatoes are our main crop in Louisiana - close to our customers as well as prime sweet potato growing land.

Sweet Potatoes are our main crop in Louisiana – close to our customers as well as prime sweet potato growing land.

Red River Valley -  Red and chip seed potato harvest is continuing on here in the Valley. There have been a few delays due to some rain. It’s literally all hands on deck, as some of the office crew, is on the farm helping out and driving truck themselves.

Grand Forks, ND - This week has been full of meetings in the office. We took a few days to focus on several marketing initiatives, and we are happy to have the entire agronomy team here for a few days of training. We also have welcomed many customers, vendors and friends to plan for how we can grow…more than potatoes in 2014.

Potatoes will always be the thing that we do. But, in order to become more efficient, more sustainable, and overall better farmers, diversification is essential. Diversification for risk, diversification for crop rotations, diversification for land partner relationships, diversification for customer needs and diversification for growth – this is why we have a bigger commitment to growing – more than potatoes.

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The B Word

BI’ve been called the “B word” many times and for many reasons. It’s a word that I used to be embarrassed about, but now I see it as a badge of honor. It means I’ve stood for something. It means I’ve grown. It means I’ve found success. It means I’ve contributed. However, it also means that there’s some confusion as to how a girl from a small town in North Dakota and her family got to be this way and why.

BIG AG:

Big Ag. The latest and most offensive “B word” around today, especially when consumers see it. When a farmer or rancher grows or is an undermined size or has some sort of relative significance, they’re negatively label “Big Ag”. Big Ag is perceived to be farm-related companies that only care about money, and not about the land. Big Ag couldn’t possibly have the love and passion of farming or ranching that is depicted in romantic photos and old movies. Big Ag is dressed in slacks and logo’d Polo’s so they obviously can’t be trusted.

John, Eric & Leah - Dressed like Big Ag. (which, can also look a lot like the 4th generation of a family farm).

John, Eric & Leah – Dressed like Big Ag. Which, can also look a lot like the 4th generation of a family farm.

We are not even close to being the biggest of Big Ag, but we do have some of the characteristics (including the Polos). We have a corporate office with 11 farming locations. We employ over 150 full time people, and continue on a path of growth and diversification. There are many companies, farmers and ranchers who are way bigger than us by multiple factors – and to them we say “congrats, good luck in the future, and hopefully there’s an opportunity to partner together and move the food industry forward”.  Together, we have an awesome responsibility to advance food safety, environmental sustainability, food quality, animal welfare, nutrition, end hunger, fight obesity, and the list goes on and on about what we can, should, and will accomplish.

Our Corporate Headquarters. This is where we have our Accounting, HR, IT, Sales, Marketing, Agronomy, Equipment, Operations departments. We realize this takes us out of the "small farm" category - but it's nothing we're going to apologize for.

Our Corporate Headquarters. This is where we have our Accounting, HR, IT, Sales, Marketing, Logistics, Agronomy, Equipment, and Operations departments. We realize this takes us out of the “small farm” category – but it’s nothing that we need to apologize for.

BIG BURRITO:

So, here’s where this is coming from. A crazy little story that “Big Burrito” tells about “Big Ag” has been in the news lately. We encourage companies to buy local when they can, and we completely support helping the smaller guy down the street over buying from “Big Ag” – we have no beef-ish with that. Everyone has their place in the channel. We do however, have a problem with inaccuracies about who “Big Ag” is and what “Big Ag” does. It’s our duty to defend not only ourselves, but our Big Ag, Small Ag, and the rest of our production agriculture friends by telling the truth, and opening our mouths & doors.

"Big Burrito" starts by telling the story of what it's like working at a "Big Ag" or "Big Food" factory. It is a difficult, thankless job. These companies only care about producing a lot of food regardless of how it's produced, as long as they can pump out a consistent product. And, ethically, they don't tell the truth, about labeling their products local or natural. It's just a factory.

“Big Burrito” starts by telling the story of what it’s like working at a “Big Ag” or “Big Food” factory. This company’s main objective is to pump out a ton of food. Production practices and marketing messages are not important to Crow Foods at all in terms of honesty and integrity. It’s a volume business.

This company is saying that if you buy your food from a factory - it's not completely what you think it is.

“Big Burrito”  explains that if you buy your food from a factory food company – there’s a good chance you’re eating something that is not what you think it is, and that health and full disclosure are the least of their priorities. This is so farmers and factory owners will still make money even if they are deceiving consumers.

This company also didn't go to a ranch, they they are assuming this is what happens when a large, successful dairy farms turns "Big Ag".

It is way sexier to tell the story with beauty, amazing music, and in a cartoon form. “Big Burrito” depicts how cows are treated by “Big Ag” in order to produce more and more product with disregard to everything else. Again, demonstrating zero ethics, but generating a high volume product.

Thank goodness, there is a smaller guy that lives on the out-skirts of town to supply "big burrito" with their veggies. He obviously cares way more than those "B words".

Thank goodness, there is a smaller farmer that lives on the out-skirts of town to supply “Big Burrito” 500 plus stores with his locally grown garden veggies. He obviously cares about food quality, safety, sustainability and health way more than those “B words”.

SHOW & TELL:

The disconnect is when people tell stories and make assumptions about production agriculture from a skyscraper in the big city. It’s not their fault, they don’t know what they don’t know. They know what they’re told, regardless if the source is correct or not. So, Big Ag needs to step up, open their doors and talk. They need to talk about how big dairy and big meat treat their sick livestock. Big produce can show how they take not-so-pretty but perfectly safe food by the truckloads to food banks. Seed & chemical companies need to explain their methods and show the products they are researching to get more food from safer and fewer resources. Breeders need to explain that nutrition is a key factor when making decisions on developing a variety. Big Ag needs to explain why things cost what they do, and where the profit goes. Ag economists need to talk about farm subsidies and the farm bill so everyday people understand it. Farmers and ranchers need to show the binders of paperwork that go into being every kind of certified in terms of food safety, environmental safety, product traceability and worker safety. We need to prove that we give back to our community, and do even more of it.

ASK US:

Stop by any of our farms, ask us questions, look at our stuff. Call Gregg directly. We’re happy to tell our story and show you why we’re proud of being the “B word”.

 

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Does Changing Mean We Have To Change?

A few years ago, when someone asked who Black Gold Farms is, we said, “we’re a farm that grows potatoes, mostly for chips, in a few states, close to our customers – but we’re from North Dakota”. None of that has changed. However, we’ve changed to become slightly more complex then we once were. We have been lucky enough to be able to change, and expand into the table stock business, into the sweet potato business, into the peanut business and even into the commodity business while expanding our packing capabilities, growing our logistics department and changing the way we use data to become better farmers – regardless of the crop, business or geography.

Does this change that has happened, change who we are? No. Does this change, change what we do? A little. Our history is about where we’ve been and our future is where we want to be – as a farm. Those two things may not look exactly alike, but hopefully they still resemble each other. At the moment, we are planning for 2014, and that plan will not look like the plan for 2013. And that’s okay. Change is a part of who we are – and that hasn’t changed. Our crops, our acres, our locations and our methods may change, but we work hard to ensure that at our core, we stay the same.

All of the managers came into Grand Forks last week to talk about change and how do we make sure we change for the right reasons.

All of the managers came into Grand Forks last week to talk about change and how we can make sure we change for the right reasons.

Pearsall, TX - Some of the Texas crew is up in North Dakota helping out with harvest preparations. The folks that are still in Texas are cleaning the shop and working on getting land and equipment ready to go again in 2014.

Live Oak, FL – The soybeans are looking good and the late corn is getting a shot of fungicide this week and watering the crop as needed. In the shop they’re getting trucks ready to be sent to Oak Grove and making repairs on harvest equipment.

Hawkinsville, GA – It’s dry in Hawkinsville which will allow for some needed Growing Degree Days for the sorghum crop. The peanut crop is progressing, and they will be starting to test for maturity next week. Inverters, combines and tractors are all being worked on in preparation for harvest.

Arbyrd, MO – They’ve had to take a short brake with corn harvest to allow the corn to dry down a bit, but still are irrigating soybeans. Some of the field trucks from Arbyrd are also getting ready to be sent to Oak Grove. Sweet Potato harvest is right around the corner, and they are getting details in place on the line and harvester.

Columbia, NC -  It’s sunny and hot which is perfect for corn harvest around Columbia. They are busy around the farm mowing and taking soil samples.

Charleston, MO – It’s hot in Charleston this week, so the Sweet Potato crop is getting plenty of water while equipment is getting ready for harvest. They are also getting 2014 land and equipment plans in place.

Rhodesdale, MD  – In the shop, the crew is cleaning and working on repairing harvest equipment. Post-harvest field work is also being completed as a part of land partner agreements.

Winamac, IN - HARVEST! It’s hot in Indiana, but they are going strong and making sure the hydro-cooler is working at full capacity. Red potato harvest should be wrapped up this week. 

Sturgis, MI – HARVEST! They are well over half done, and the warm weather will help the last few acres bulk up even more. They are also getting ready for fingerling harvest, which will start early October.

Red River Valley – HARVEST starts tomorrow! The entire team is going strong getting ready for harvest in the field and at the wash plant in East Grand Forks. We got a much needed rain event which should set us up for a successful harvest kickoff.

Oak Grove, LA - HARVEST – They’ll finish up cutting beans, then on to harvesting Sweet Potatoes here later this week in Oak Grove.

Grand Forks, ND – It has been busy this past week with local events such as the Potato Bowl fireworks giveaway and other off-season meetings like manager training and customer reviews. Meetings, events and tour ready housekeeping work is keeping everyone in the Grand Forks office very busy.

Eric Halverson gets down and dirty to make sure his office is "Tour Ready".

Eric Halverson gets down and dirty to make sure his office is “Tour Ready”.

We believe that our principles haven’t changed since Hallie Halverson started the company in 1928 – We have always, and still do believe in sustainability, in innovation, in continued growth,  in being profitable, and we believe in hard work and having fun. Our crops and methods may have changed and will change in the future, but who we are – has not and will not.

Change can be difficlut - like having to tailgate from a tailgate and not a bus. Some people are more okay with it than others.

Change can be difficult – Like having to tailgate before a football game from a tailgate and not a bus. Some people are more okay with it than others.

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