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Serving: IN

Potatoes under irrigation become niche crop

Slideshow: An Indiana farmer shares his experience growing and harvesting potatoes for the first time.

Ryan Facemire isn’t new to specialty crops, but this is his first year growing potatoes. Ryan and his dad, Jim Facemire, Franklin, Ind., have grown seed corn, seed beans, popcorn and cucumbers for pickles in the past. They still grow cucumbers and popcorn today. This year they added potatoes.

“We have several hundred acres under irrigation, and we look for specialty crops that allow us to recoup our investment in irrigation,” Ryan explains. “This year we had the opportunity to add potatoes, and we’re enjoying learning about the crop.”

Black Gold Farms, a fourth-generation family farm based in Forest River, N.D., contracted to grow over 300 acres of potatoes under irrigation on Facemire Farms in 2020. This is Black Gold’s first venture into south-central Indiana, but not its first experience in the state. Black Gold grows thousands of acres of potatoes near Winamac in northern Indiana, and has cool-storage and packing facilities near Winamac as well. The farm invested in a new seed hub for potatoes near Yorktown, Ind., in 2019.

Tim Kunze manages the seed potato hub and has coordinated activities at the new location at Facemire Farms in 2020. He notes that choosing Indiana for a nationwide seed potato hub made sense because Black Gold has locations for growing potatoes spread across the country, all the way into New England. Black Gold Farms also raises large volumes of sweet potatoes in the Southern U.S.

From field to chip

The potatoes that grew at Facemire Farms in 2020 were harvested in July and August and sent to various processors to be turned into potato chips. Spokesmen note that the journey from potato in the field to chip in the bag during harvest season is relatively short — usually just a matter of days.

Black Gold Farms provides the planting and harvesting equipment. It also located machinery to sort, wash, clean and load potatoes into semitrucks at the Facemire farmstead near Edinburgh, Ind.

Growing potatoes requires large applications of nutrients plus several aerial applications of pesticides during the season. Although they stay in contact with Ryan Facemire often, Black Gold Farms personnel manage the crop during the season.

They’re still learning about the crop, Ryan says. What he’s doing now is determining how to best handle soils after potato harvest. He planted oats for forage where potatoes were harvested early and will deep-rip those acres later. He’s considering deep-ripping acres that were harvested later and sowing a cover crop to help the soil and prevent soil erosion.

Ryan says it may turn out similar to how they handled fields when they grew seed corn several years ago. They will follow with a different crop, not potatoes, in 2021 in fields where potatoes grew in 2020.

To see photos of the Facemires’ experiences, check out the slideshow.

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