Growing potatoes is not an easy profession. There are so many punches beyond your individual control you need to roll with. Drought. Potato Surplus. Disease.
But Bryan and Scott Searle of Shelley, Idaho, seem to take evangelical Christian pastor Charles Swindoll’s advice seriously: “We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent of how I react to it. And so it is with you... we are in charge of our attitudes.”
The Searles, despite the setbacks they’ve encountered in their careers, still remain positive for what the future holds.
The Searle brothers grew up as third-generation potato growers. Their father, Lloyd, farmed with four of his brothers until the mid-1980s, about the time Scott was graduating from high school and Bryan was already married. Lloyd split from his brothers and took both sons as partners on his farm, which they did for a dozen years. Scott, who attended Ricks College in nearby Rexburg for two years and served an LDS mission in South Carolina before returning to the farm, returned for the love of it—it was always something he wanted to do.
Bryan attended Ricks, served an LDS mission in England and after getting married attended a vocational school in a mechanics program for one winter. He returned to the farm, for the same reason—a love of the soil and watching a seed grow.
Bryan says the mechanic schooling didn’t help that much.
“Some of the things I already knew, some of the things I’ve learned since,” he says.
If anything, he says it convinced him he didn’t want to be a full-time mechanic! Instead of doing the same things day in and day out, Bryan wanted to be on the farm, where every operation is different and every year is different.
“There are never the same challenges,” he says.
Bryan says that education has its place, but they’ve had possibly the best education with hands-on, personal experiences.
“I don’t have a degree behind my name with a cap and gown, but I can tell you we’ve had quite an education as we’ve gone through the years,” he says.
After about 10–12 years farming with their father, Bryan and Scott bought out their father and formed Searle Farms, which it remains to this day.
Searle Farms grows a total of 2,100 acres of five different potato varieties: Cal Whites, Norkotahs, Alturas, Burbanks and Rio Grandes. Two-thirds of their potatoes are for dehy, while the remaining third are for the fresh market. Their rotational crops include wheat and barley, and some hay, corn and canola.
They have two full-time employees—Bryan’s son Ray and Jose Olvera. They have 10 employees throughout the summer through the H2A program.
They typically plant around the April 20 and finish by May 10. They start harvesting the Cal Whites for processors the last week of August, digging them green. They finish the Cal Whites the middle of September, and start digging the Norkotahs for a fresh warehouse for about a week. Finally, they start harvesting everything else near the end of September and go for two weeks.
Scott served as district chairman for Potato Growers of Idaho when it was a larger organization, was on its executive committee and has served on the U.S. Potato Board (The National Potato Promotion Board, at the time) for six years. He’s also served on the Idaho Eastern Oregon Potato Committee. Bryan has served on the state board for Farm Bureau for nearly two decades. While there, he served on various committees, and was chairman of the potato committee two different times.
One thing that has made their operation successful in Shelley is their ability to work together.
“We’ve been able to identify his strengths, my strengths and we do our thing. I think that’s helped our operation,” Scott says. “We’re not looking down each other’s throats, saying, ‘I wanna do that!’ or ‘You’re doing that wrong!’”
In addition to dividing up the day-to-day chores equally, Scott focuses more on marketing and Bryan on the paperwork: the accounting, insurance, H2A and GAP.
Bryan attributes part of their success to their Bingham Co-Op field man, Gary Farmer, who has helped them with improvements such as technology upgrades, which they’ve been fine-tuning over the years, and varying seed spacing.
Just like an increasing number of growers, they rely heavily on smart phones.
“I can start or stop a pivot right now. I can speed it up, slow it down one or two [notches],” Bryan says. “You can do it in seconds on your phone from wherever you want to be in the world.”
As most people with smart phones can attest, you’re always working. And the Searles have no problem with that.
“We’re not afraid to put the hours in,” Bryan says. “If there’s another opportunity, we’ll go for it.”
They don’t just farm. They also own a storage facility, have a hand in developing subdivisions and they run a brokerage business called Sunrise Potatoes, which they run with partner Stacy Jackson. Sunrise brokers potatoes all over the country.
And no matter what is thrown in their laps, they don’t walk away and give up.
“We say, ‘We’re gonna go on—prices are low, whatever disease, whatever comes our way. You take the bull by the horns and continue to go forward,” Bryan says.
They recall many years ago that wireworm was the big problem, but now they’re not even sure what happened to it.
“There seems to always be a solution to whatever comes if you’re patient enough.”
Scott says business relationships have been important to the success of their operation.
“We value those relationships. [It’s] something that takes years to get to. That’s paid dividends. I’ve watched people burn bridges real quick because of whatever—temper or something—and it only takes a few minutes to ruin a lifelong working at developing a relationship. We do everything possible to keep those relationships.”
Bryan says a key part of their operation is the family, since it’s a family business. His wife has to deal with his crazy hours. He’s watched his then-sweet-16 daughter climb out of a 10-wheeler during harvest with an inch of dirt on her face.
“Wives, children, they’ve been a key part of being involved,” he says. “We’ve got family that has put their heart into the [operation], and they’re supportive.”
Scott and his wife, Tausha, have two girls and four boys. Bryan and his wife, Mary, have three boys and two girls.
With one of Bryan’s sons already permanently on the farm, and one of Scott’s working full-time before he leaves for his own LDS mission, the operation continues. The Searles have plenty to be optimistic about.
“If we could keep production in line, I think there are a lot of positive things that would happen in the market,” Scott says.
Because of the rate the world population is growing, Bryan expects there will be opportunities to feed more people.
“Maybe they won’t need as many fresh potatoes, or the housewife won’t buy as many from the grocery store, but we’re smart enough to find some other way that they’ll eat them,” he says.