Over 100 Years of Growing Potatoes; 70 Years in Texas
In the fall of 1939, Fred Spencer Barrett met a farmer and real estate developer from Texas in a bank in Wendell, Idaho. The two Texans were in Idaho to learn about Idaho irrigation methods. Over the next couple of days, the three men talked farming, irrigation, and other issues. Fred’s interest was piqued, so he rode back with the two to look around the Texas Panhandle. Noting the favorable elevation, climate, water, and soil, Fred concluded that the High Plains of Texas presented an ideal opportunity for supplying fresh, high quality potatoes for the summer market. Returning home to Idaho, he told his wife and eight children: “we’re going to Texas.”
Born in Kansas in 1884, Fred Barrett attended Kansas University, where he studied civil engineering. In the early 1900’s, he worked on various railroad projects, traveling as far as Colorado and Alaska. Moving to Idaho for the promise of “better opportunity,” he discovered potato farming. In 1910, Fred Barrett produced the Barrett family’s first potato crop. In those early years, his potatoes were shipped by rail to St. Louis, Chicago, and other cities. Often, Fred would hitch a ride in the caboose and ride with the potatoes to market.
Being a civil engineer, Fred Barrett believed in applying the technology of the day to farming. From his first crop, Fred utilized a mechanical planter rather than planting by hand. In the 1920’s, Fred began replacing horses with tractors. In 1944, Fred first utilized a mechanized potato harvester, which he built himself. And throughout his career, Fred sought more efficient irrigation methods and better planting, growing, and harvesting equipment and techniques.
Fred moved the family to Hereford, Texas in 1940. Fred sought to establish an identity by producing high-quality, fresh potatoes in the summer market window between the southwest and northwest harvests. Although the grain farmers in Hereford initially weren’t sure what to make of the vegetable grower from the North, Fred persevered, convinced that the Texas Panhandle provided the opportunity to serve the summer market with fresh potatoes. After surviving the extremely heavy, anomalous rainfall in his first year, Fred and his sons established a presence in Texas. Soon, they expanded operations to various areas in the Panhandle and High Plains, including Muleshoe (Stan Barrett), Seminole (Fred Barrett, Jr., or “Dooby”), Morton (Robert “Bob” Barrett), and Hereford (Frank Barrett and Richard “Dick” Barrett). In the 1970s, Frank moved his operation to the sandhills near Springlake, Texas, where the soil was sandier and water more plentiful. Focusing on red potatoes in the early years, then expanding russet production throughout the 50‘s, 60‘s and 70‘s, the Barretts’ operations continued to grow and serve as a reliable source of fresh, summer red and russet potatoes. Today, Frank and his son, Bruce Barrett, are still producing potatoes near Springlake. Dooby’s son, Rusty Barrett, and grandsons, Lance and Nathan Barrett, are producing potatoes near Seminole, and Stan’s grandson, Jason Box, is producing potatoes near Muleshoe. The Barretts have three packing sheds near Muleshoe, Springlake, and Seminole. Dick’s son, Richard Barrett, and grandson, Keith Barrett, market the potatoes for all the operations out of the Muleshoe packing shed.
Today’s growers at Barrett Potato Farms continue the tradition started by Fred Barrett in Idaho in 1910 and Texas in 1940: 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 Barretts 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 Barretts 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 Barretts have a genuine love and respect for potatoes and the craft in producing them and delivering them to the public.