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R.D. Offutt potato picking in full swing

Community members can take part in picking their own potatoes from the field September 24-26.

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Adam Templin, Jonathan Robbins, Charlie Wachlin and Mark Riepe accepted Large Grower of the Year award on behalf of the Wadena team from Darwin Lake, Lamb Weston Agriculture Manager. Two Grower of the Year awards have been presented for more than 20 years by Lamb Weston – large farm and small farm, based on amount of acreage. Farms are evaluated by production of the best potato quality attributes, measured by overall crop, storability, and color. Contributed photo
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After 23 years, Wadena native Charlie Wachlin is amazed at how much he is still learning about growing potatoes.

Wachlin, R.D. Offutt Wadena farm manager, said every year is different as he surveyed this year’s potato fields.

“In the spring, we had a late frost that we worried would impact the crop, then we dealt with very dry and hot conditions,” Wachlin said. “Despite those factors, 2021’s crop looks promising.”

And he ought to know a good crop when he sees one. In late August, Wachlin’s farm was named Lamb Weston’s 2020 Large Grower of the Year for its Park Rapids’ potato processing plant.

The farm, which has been in operation since 1996, has a hard-working crew of 12 full-time team members and more than 40 seasonal helpers during planting and harvest. Wachlin’s wife, Diane, has managed the office for nine years, and his brother-in-law Jonathan, has been a team member and serves as one of the farm leads for 14 years. On average, the farm team plants approximately 2,000 acres of potatoes, which has decreased over time due to a longer rotation schedule.

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Diane Wachlin working at the Wadena County Fair. Contributed photo

Wachlin credits the farm’s successes to the individual care of each field by his team and long-term relationships with area farmers with whom he rotates land.

“We’ve been farming potatoes in Wadena for more than 20 years. We know our neighbors well, we understand the soil and we focus on maintaining a sustainable farming operation,” Wachlin said.

Getting involved in the community

The Wadena farm team is no stranger to participating in community events. Every June, Diane and other team members man a booth the Wadena County Fair for four days, educating fair goers about potato farming, recruiting new team members and giving away prizes to kids. In the past, the farm has donated to local fire departments, the community center and library.

In September, the Wadena farm team is hosting its 7th Annual Potato Field Days, inviting fellow neighbors and members of the community to an “all-you-can-dig party.” On September 24-26 from sunrise till sunset, those interested can bring potato forks and buckets to an RDO field and dig to their heart’s content. This year, Wadena County 4-Her’s will be at the field on Saturday, Sept. 25 from 8 a.m. – 11 a.m. and Sunday from 2-4 p.m. to help fill potato buckets.

For Wachlin and others, events like Potato Field Days have become like tradition in the community, and they are opportunities for involvement he is thankful to have.

“It’s a great chance for us to not only share a little bit of what we do as farmers with our friends and neighbors, but it’s also just a good way to stay connected. We’re a fairly small community, there are a lot of relationships that extend beyond work or business,” Wachlin said.

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Potato Dig Directions: From Wadena, take Hwy 29 towards Deer Creek for 2 miles. Turn left onto Hwy 75, go approximately 1.75 miles and the field will be on your right. Signs will be posted at field entrance.

Work hard, play hard

When they aren’t farming potatoes, you’ll find the RDO Wadena farm team at the Fairgrounds, as Charlie and Jonathan spent time on the Enduro Race Series this summer. This fall, they’ll be cheering on the high school football team and looking forward to some time off following harvest.

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Charlie Wachlin works with his oldest son Alex at a Wadena County Enduro race. Contributed photo

Related Topics: WADENAAGRICULTURE
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