They say everything’s bigger in Texas. But when it comes to potatoes, the state sits just 13th in acres harvested. Only about one one-hundredth of a percent of Texas’ total landmass is dedicated to growing potatoes. But the Barrett family of the Texas Panhandle has proven for more than 80 years that growing potatoes can be done quite successfully in Texas
In 1939, Fred Barrett was a potato grower in Wendell, Idaho. That fall, he met a farmer and a real estate developer from Texas who were in Idaho studying irrigation methods. Before long, Fred took a trip to the Panhandle with his new acquaintances, and the rest, as they say, is history. In 1940 Fred moved his family south, and today Springlake Potatoes and Richard Barrett Produce carry on the Barrett name and tradition of excellence.
“Fred just saw an opportunity,” says his great-grandson Keith, who along with his father Richard takes care of most of the Barretts’ potato marketing needs. “There was good water and not a lot of potatoes being grown down here, and he would have freight advantages against other growers. I don’t know if he was the first, but he was one of the first potato growers in Texas.”
There’s a reason not many potato growers choose to ply their trade in the Lone Star State. Growing a crop like potatoes has its unique challenges in Texas that growers in other regions often don’t face. The family grow many of their potatoes on a stretch of highly erodible sand hills. That soil, combined with the Panhandle’s often extreme heat and wind, means that Barrett potatoes always have to be planted into a cover crop (usually wheat). It’s challenging, but the Barretts take great pride in doing what they do where they do it.
Being one of the only growers in Texas gives the Barretts a few unique advantages to go along with those challenges. Each year, they harvest between 1,000 and 1,500 acres of reds, russets and yellows, all grown for the fresh market under pivot irrigation. Much of their crop will stay in Texas, but they also ship a lot to the potato-needy areas of the Deep South and Northeast. Steve and Bruce Barrett and Tim Gonzalez manage the farming side of the operation, and Keith and Richard head up the marketing team.
The family have trusted the market, their techniques, and hard work, and it’s paid off. Potato production might not be bigger in all of the Lone Star State, but up in the Panhandle, it’s safe to say that it is.
Today’s growers at Barrett Potato Farms continue the tradition started by Fred Barrett in Idaho in 1909 and Texas in 1939: producing high-quality, fresh potatoes. Drawing from knowledge and experience acquired from 100 consecutive years of potato farming; developing and implementing innovative planting and growing methods, and utilizing cutting-edge technologies (including but not limited to GPS-driven tractors, computer-assisted irrigation, electronic grading, etc), the Barretts have an established record of delivering a high-quality and reliable product.
Through two world wars, a depression, a dust bowl, and other adversities, the family have produced a quality crop for over 100 consecutive years. Moreover, the Barretts’ commitment to reliability is demonstrated within each harvest, for they strive to have potatoes available for market on a daily basis from the day the first potato is dug until the day the last potato is shipped.
For the Barretts, producing high-quality, fresh potatoes is a deep-rooted family tradition spanning a century of years and five generations of family members. The take great pride in their product, and never cease looking for opportunities to innovate and improve the quality of their product and sustainability of their operations. The family have a genuine love and respect for potatoes and the craft in producing them and delivering them to the public.