What makes 2014 different?

BY Leah Brakke

What was the hot button issue in agriculture this year? Weather? Labor? Technology? Communication? Government? Transportation? The Economy? All of these were issues that affected farmers and ranchers in 2014. These issues have always and will always affect farmers and ranchers regardless of the year.

Beyond the consistent hot button issues that agriculture faces year after year, there were other things that came to light for us in 2014. We had to deal with the regular problems and challenges, but we also knew we had an opportunity to think and act beyond them.

5 Things That Stuck Out in 2014 at Black Gold Farms

5. Grow With a Purpose

Growth for the sake of growths’ sake is not meaningful and it’s not productive. However, growth for the sake of being more sustainable, meeting customer needs and elevating productivity is meaningful and it is productive. 2014 was a year of growth at Black Gold Farms for all of these reasons.

Sweet Potatoes: We’ve been in the sweet potato game for about 3 years now. However, 2014 catapulted us to a bigger player in the market. We have expanded our sweet potato acreage, varieties, and markets quite significantly. Most of our sweet potatoes are used for processing (sweet potato fries). With the new acreage and varieties, we are now also able to supply the fresh market with sweet potatoes as well. This has been a huge project that we have learned from and we feel as though there is huge potential for growth in this market.

Sweet potatoes being shipped out to retail in Delhi, LA.

Camden, NC: 2015 will begin with an additional production and packaging facility in North Carolina. This new location is an exciting opportunity to enter into some new markets, develop new relationships and expand customer offerings locally.

Google Earth photo of Farm
Google Earth photo of the new farm location in Cambden, NC

Data: A large amount of time and energy has been directed to make sure all of the data that we gather is used for something meaningful. There is so much to analyze, to report, and to learn from. In 2014, we continued to put together new information technology systems to be better at managing that data. It’s not that we need more data, but we need to grow the systems to make the data more useful and powerful.

4. Be Better Farmers
We believe, we have the best agronomists, the best engineers, and the best farmers there are on our team. We also like to believe we have a vision to use technology, we do things that will make us more efficient, more profitable and more sustainable. We test, we trial, we research inputs, we develop marketing campaigns and we do projects to see how we can improve. This is all great, and it’s what we need to do. However…

We’re potato farmers. If we can’t be the best at growing potatoes, then all of the other “stuff” doesn’t matter. At the beginning and the end of the day, our customers need a quality potato, at the right time and the right place.

We needed to focus on what really matters. We needed to get back to the basics. The other “stuff” won’t go away. That will continue to be a major factor in our business, but it needs to support, not deviate our focus.

3. Give Back in All Aspects of Life
Locally: A core responsibly of being a good person and a good company is to give back. Black Gold Farms has historically given back locally, and we did that again in 2014. This is something that we will continue to do in the future.

Individually: People need to be happy, healthy and safe. This year there was a lot of talk about how we can help our people live a healthy life while at work. Healthy food choices and physical activity were encouraged and supported. Safety was also a huge topic all year long. Processes and precautions were put in place to ensure we are doing everything we can to maintain a safe workplace.

Industry: There is a huge industry, many people, and great organizations that support our small efforts. In the potato category, in the produce category, in the food category, and in  agriculture there is a lot of work to be done to remain sustainable. We continue to contribute individually and as a company to do what we can to ensure the entire industry remains prosperous and vibrant. We also understand that as farmers, there’s a greater importance now to continue to tell our story, engage non-farm audiences and be an advocate for agriculture as much as we can.

Leah participated with over 500 Produce Industry professionals who traveled to Washington DC to support the industry on Capitol Hill.

Eric, Yvette, Leah, Yvonne, Keith, Jason, Marty & David all participated in the PMA Foundation for Talent’s 5K. A great way to show support for health and the future talent that will take the produce industry into the future.

2. Implement a Succession Plan
Gregg Halverson, has sat in the CEO chair for a long time. As of October 23rd, 2014 Gregg still sits in the same chair, in the same office, but doesn’t have the same title. It’s now the 4th generation that has the title of CEO. There’s not an official retirement, there’s no major strategy or culture changes planned and day to day operations are essentially the exact same. It’s a shift. It’s a progression. It’s a plan. It’s something that has been years in the making.

Eric getting his new business cards that say “CEO” from Gregg (his dad)

Gregg will still come to work, provide input, and do what he can to help Black Gold Farms. Eric, will have his same office, but now he has the title and the responsibility to lead the Black Gold Farms mission, vision, values, and the entire team into the future.

1. Have Fun
Farming is hard work. It is early mornings and late nights. It is being away from your family and friends during harvest, and sometimes on Holidays. There is a lot of pressure. There is a lot of reward. Most people involved in agriculture, however wouldn’t have it any other way.
Farming is fun. Not just what we do on a daily basis, but what we share when we’re not in the field, in the office, in the packing facility, or in the shop. If we’re not having fun or if we don’t wake up and enjoy going to work, then we’re doing something wrong. Sometimes, we need to take a step back to remember just how fun this actually is.

In the middle of a few days of meetings, it was so much fun for everyone at Black Gold Farms to head out to the curling rink.
That’s a wrap!

These are just a few of the highlights that stuck out for Black Gold Farms in 2014. They made 2014 different than other years, however, it’s our hope that all of these things will linger on for 2015.

Congratulations and thank you for an amazing 2014. Here’s to 2015, and may it be even the best year yet!

* Click Here to see what the top 10 of 2013 was. A great reminder of how far we’ve come in 1 year.