Updated: Sep 27
Wingard Farms started over a century ago in 1918. Located in Elk River, they are a 900 acre farm specializing in potatoes, growing several varieties including yellow, red and russet potatoes. They also grow a combination of other crops including soybeans, sweet corn, and seed corn as rotation crops to reduce the risk of disease. They're one of many members of Centra Sota Coop's Agricultural Cooperative in Buffalo MN.
According to David Wingard, each acre of potatoes yields roughly 40k lbs of potatoes. With around 400 acres of potatoes planted, a typical harvest will produce 15-20M lbs each year.
Planting typically begins in the first week of April. However, due to the cold spring this year, they weren’t able to plant until April 22nd. During the growing season, the Colorado Potato Bug poses a significant threat to a healthy crop. These pests overwinter in the surrounding soil and emerge in the spring. Unchecked, they will devour potato plants until only sticks remain. To combat this, insecticide is applied at planting time to stop the pest before it gets started. This technique has been successful in limiting their numbers, and later applications are only used if needed.
Harvest has just started on Wingard Farms and will last into the middle of September. Yellow and red potatoes are ready for harvest first. Russets will grow longer to continue to add size create those big, baked potatoes we all love. Harvest requires extra hours and hands, so Wingard hires local high school students as well as crews who drive up from Texas to help. (You can see updates on their harvest on the Wingard Farms Facebook page.) Many of these seasonal employees return year after year. Once digging begins, crews will often work 14-15 hour days to ensure that the crops are brought in successfully.
The harvest process begins about three weeks before they ever dig a potato out of the ground. Vine-kill is applied first and sits for around 21 days to allow the potatoes to develop a sturdier skin. This will help ensure a more attractive product that can stand up to handling.
After harvest, potatoes are brought into the buildings where they are washed and scrubbed, dried, then sorted by quality and size into various packaging lines. Ideally, harvested potatoes only stay in the Wingard Farms coolers for a day or two before they are picked up and distributed.
Some are sent to be processed into the potato products (hash browns, chopped potatoes, etc.) that we buy in stores. Others are packed into 50lbs boxes and used for food service. Many are sorted by size to be cooled, bagged, and stacked to be picked up and sold in local grocery stores like Cub Foods and Wal-Mart.
Once harvest season is complete, the farm grows much quieter - allowing all the workers to spend time with their families and catch up from the chaos of a long growing and harvest season. Work will begin again in February or March to prepare for the next planting season.
Wingard Farms also sells to the public (minimum size is 50lbs). Potatoes do best when stored in a dark, cool place. Stop by this fall to grab some potatoes for all your holiday recipes!