FACES: Doing it right
After six months, Gregg Halvorson's potato harvest is finally finished. Halvorson's Grand Forks based-company, called Black Gold, owns farms in 11 locations across the United States, so the potato harvest begins in April in south Texas and ends i...
After six months, Gregg Halvorson's potato harvest is finally finished.
Halvorson's Grand Forks based-company, called Black Gold, owns farms in 11 locations across the United States, so the potato harvest begins in April in south Texas and ends in late October in Michigan. Black Gold farms grow a total of about 17,000 acres of potatoes and are the world's largest producer of fresh-crop chipping potatoes.
Besides chipping potatoes, Black Gold farms across the United States also grow soybeans, corn, wheat, table and seed potatoes, peanuts, snap beans and sweet potatoes. Farm locations include Georgia, North Carolina and Florida. The newest location is a farm in Oak Grove, La., which grows sweet potatoes. The oldest is the farm near Forest River, N.D., where Halvorson's grandfather, A.E. "Hallie" Halvorson, began growing seed potatoes in 1928.
"We've been growing potatoes on the farm continuously for more than 80 years," Halvorson said.
Operating farms in diverse locations helps spread out the production risk, said Halvorson, who is president and CEO of the family-owned company. Halvorson's son, John, who lives in Arkansas, is operations vice president and oversees Midwest production, and his son Eric, of Grand Forks, is vice president of technology. Halvorson's daughter, Leah Brakke, of Fargo, also helps with the business with marketing and public relations.
Halvorson has been involved in the operation of Black Gold since 1971 when he graduated from NDSU with a bachelor's degree in animal science. At that time, Black Gold was based in Forest River, N.D., and, besides chip potatoes, also raised registered Angus cattle. The Halvorsons sold the cattle in 1985.
With fewer farmers raising cattle, it had become difficult to market their breeding stock, so the Halvorsons decided instead to expand their potato operation.
"The world was changing," Halvorson said. Expanding the potato operation proved to be a good decision.
"We don't hit the ball out of the park, but we hit singles," he said.
When he's not in the office overseeing the operation of Black Gold, Halvorson is travelling. He spends about 40 percent of his time on the road visiting customers, farms and attending meetings and conventions.
Industry, community involvement
His involvement in the potato industry is not limited to Black Gold. He also chairs the Northern Plains Potato Growers Association and has chaired the Potato Bowl committee at UND. Halvorson conceived the idea for the annual French Fry Feed when he was chair.
"Everybody said it couldn't be done, but I said, 'Yes, it can, just wait,'" Halvorson said.
Meanwhile, Black Gold has received several awards including the 2008 National Potato Council Environmental Stewardship Award, the 2008 Frito-Lay East Regional Service Award and the Frito-Lay National Potato Supplier of the Year in 2002 and 2007. He also received the Industry Award during the 2009 World Potato Congress in Christchurch, New Zeeland.
Halvorson was honored for his contributions to the potato industry at the NDSU Harvest Bowl held earlier this month when he received the 2010 Agribusiness Award.
Black Gold also contributes to the Grand Forks community through the Halvorson Family Foundation.
"We think giving back is pretty important," Halvorson said.
He credits Black Gold's success to having good employees, a positive attitude and taking time to do things correctly.
"My dad taught me to do it right the first time."
Reach Bailey at (701) 787-6753; (800) 477-6572, ext. 753; or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org .