Photo Credit: Shutterstock/tomasworks

For the Love of Potatoes

To Merrill Hanny, of Hanny Farms in Idaho Falls, Idaho, growing potatoes is more than a business. It’s a way of life.

By Vicki Martinez

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Since the 1970s, Merrill Hanny, a third-generation potato grower, has delivered potato goodness to the produce bins of Kroger and other grocers nationwideHis passion for potatoes (and commitment to a quality product) is inspiring. 

Rooted in Tradition 

It began over 100 years ago when Hanny’s grandfather purchased a 40-acre farm from his father-in-law, a local grocer at the time. He raised livestock, grew an array of vegetables, and harvested five acres of potatoes every year to successfully support a large family. Over the next several decades Idaho became the burgeoning potato mecca we know today. In 1976 Merrill expanded the family built operation by purchasing 2,500 acres of new land, and Hanny Farms was born. 

Some Industry “Spud”cifics 

Growing season begins around the first week of April when seed potatoeswhich look like mini-potatoes—are run through a cutter, sliced into 2½ oz. pieces, and planted 8 inches deep in mounds (or hills) of soil, row after linear row. “We plant 2,200 lbs. of seed potato per acre,” says Merrill. “By the time they’re ready for harvest those seed potatoes have increased 300% in size.” 

“Growing potatoes is quite a unique science,” explains Hanny when we discuss the challenges of harvesting potato crops. “Potatoes are very weather reliant.” When harvesting begins in early October the soil, or tuber temperature, must be a minimum of 45°F. If a farmer moves through harvest when temperatures are too cold, potatoes suffer from bruising and broken skin. 

When all goes according to plan potatoes are harvested, washed, then stacked 18-20 ft. high in hi-tech buildings that circulate fresh air and moisture to regulate temperature and humidity. Potatoes can be safely stored up to a year in these controlled conditions. 

Although Hanny considers his business small potatoes when compared to large corporate farms that plant 10,000-12,000 acres, Hanny Farms fills 3 large storage buildingseach hold 80,000 CWTs (100 lb. sacks)—with potatoes. “That’s enough to feed an entire city of fifty thousand for a year,” says Hanny putting it into perspective. 

A Family (and Community) Affair 

Keeping with his grandfather’s tradition Hanny and his wife, also supported a large family—2 sons and 5 daughters—by growing potatoes, plus wheat and alfalfa. And although their children are now grown and spread across the country (and Puerto Rico), something incredible happens come October. The sense of joy and pride is evident as Hanny shares that his kids “take a break from their professional and corporate jobs and fly back to take part in the harvest.” 

But the Hanny family is not the only group of potato prodigals. Every year the local high school district closes for a two-week break during harvest. High school students learn responsibility, solid work ethics, how to operate equipment, and make a cool grand in pocket money! Merrill’s final thought explains the atmosphere perfectly: “Potatoes are just a part of our life.” 

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