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Shephard Farms potato harvest rolls with people who make it possible

Thomas Shephard's favorite part of harvest is the people he does it alongside as there are a lot of jobs to do and the people who he works with are the ones who get it done.

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Thomas Shephard of Shephard Farms, Crystal, North Dakota, watches Dakota Pearl potatoes come in during harvest. The Dakota Pearl variety is used for chipping and will start shipping by rail cars and semi-trucks as soon as harvest is completed for the Shephard family. Photo taken Sept. 26, 2022.
Trevor Peterson / AgweekTV
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Editor's note: Katie Pinke will be checking up with Thomas Shephard throughout the growing season as part of our Follow a Farmer series.

CRYSTAL, N.D. — Thomas Shephard’s favorite part of potato harvest isn’t the potatoes being dug from the ground.

Shephard’s favorite part of harvest is the people he does it alongside.

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Lyle and Thomas Shephard of Shephard Farms, Crystal, North Dakota, are harvesting potatoes simultaneously as they harvest edible beans. Potato harvest runs for about one-month from mid-September to mid-October. Photo taken Sept. 26, 2022.
Katie Pinke / Agweek

“My favorite part of harvest is the people we do it with. It’s kind of fun. My uncle is here all the way from Idaho to help. A friend of mine from ministry, he’s just staying in my basement helping out, driving truck. Different people come, and we all get together. There’s a lot of jobs that need to be done. I am just thankful for all of the people that get it done.”

Potato harvest is rolling on Shephard Farms at Crystal, North Dakota, about 30 miles west of Minnesota and 30 miles south of the U.S.-Canada border in the northeastern corner of North Dakota.

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“It’s probably our busiest time of year, but it’s a good thing. We are rolling pretty well,” said Thomas Shephard.

Potato harvest started mid-September, after the Shephards finished small grains and simultaneously as they harvest edible beans. Potato harvest runs for about one-month.

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Thomas Shephard says recent rain helps potato harvest as the mud creates a cushion around the potato, preventing bruising. Photo taken Sept. 26, 2022.
Trevor Peterson / AgweekTV

“We usually say it’s about a month. We say mid-September to mid-October as what we tend to plan and then we adjust as we need to,” added Shephard, who will finish potato harvest to start soybean harvest and lastly as things slow down, corn harvest.

Recent rain positively impacted potato harvest.

Read more from Agweek's Follow a Farmer series on Thomas Shephard:
Thomas Shephard farms near Crystal, North Dakota. Agweek has been catching up with him throughout the season to learn about one of his primary crops: potatoes.
Thomas Shephard will be featured throughout the growing season from the family farm near Crystal which has been growing potatoes since the 1930s, primarily chipping potatoes.
"This is probably my favorite time of year as a farmer," said Thomas Shephard. "It's just beautiful around. With the potatoes, some people have come out in the summertime and think maybe we grow flowers because they look so beautiful."

“You need a good rain to really get the potato harvest rolling. I like to say so. When they’re coming in with that direct, if the dirt is hard and dry, it’s kind of like a rock. It’s bruises the potatoes a little bit, which you don’t like to do," he said. "And then as soon as you get a nice rain, that dirt turns into a mud and it’s much softer and it’s actually a cushion. And to be able to get potatoes into the bin, to have good moisture in the field, it’s a huge blessing.”

Potato harvest on Shephard Farms started with chipping potatoes.

“Right now, we’re harvesting the Dakota Pearl. It’s a beautiful name, beautiful potato for our area. And it’s our main variety of a chipping potato. Then we’ve got a few different varieties for chips that we’re going through. We finish up with our red ones from here.”

Potatoes start shipping immediately and continue throughout the year.

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“Right now, we’re putting them in our warehouse right here in Crystal, and we’ve got different bins separating different varieties. It depends on what time of year that they’re going to be shipped,” Shephard said.

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Potatoes for chipping will be stored in humidity- and temperature-controlled warehouses, separated in bins by varieties, at Shephard Farms. They start shipping after harvest and through next summer. Photo taken Sept. 26, 2022.
Trevor Peterson / AgweekTV

“What we do throughout the whole year is we load railcars and semi-trucks and really go throughout the whole country.”

Potatoes are stored in climate-controlled warehouses, and some will keep fresh until as far out as next summer.

“We can keep them up to a year, but pretty much as soon as we finish harvesting, we start shipping. We’re thankful to have different bins here that hold some longer than the other ones, depending on temperature and humidity controls. We’ll have some that won’t go out until next summer.”

“It’s cool to think, you can be eating in this area, eating something grown in this area, and we take pride in that.”

In November, Agweek plans to return to Shephard Farms for potato shipping and check in on the soybean and corn harvest.

Katie Pinke serves as Agweek and AgweekTV's publisher and general manager and since 2015 has written a weekly column. Pinke resides in rural North Dakota with her husband and children where she is a 4-H leader, active community volunteer, and a proud fifth-generation farmers' daughter.
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