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What does "Break for Potatoes" Mean for Some Kids?

Q:

When I was a kid, growing up in an area in Oregon that was dominated by agriculture I remember getting time off from high school to go pick raspberries and my friends in Idaho got to do this with potatoes. Do school kids still do this?

A:

While it doesn’t happen as often, many schools in Eastern Idaho still have a break so the students can work in the fields or in storage facilities helping with the potato harvest. Traditionally this happened in Pocatello, Idaho Falls and especially in smaller communities in order to gear up for the harvest and beat a heavy frost coming on in the fall which could ruin the potatoes. In Madison County, for example, the kids still get six days off. Our very own Idaho Potato Commission Industry Relations Director, Travis Blacker, took the opportunity to comment on this to a school board recently:

Good Evening Madison School Board Members, my name is Travis Blacker and I’m the Industry Relations Director for the Idaho Potato Commission.  I’ve also been a resident of Madison County now for over 20 years.  I’m addressing you today on the value and importance of the potato industry here in Madison County.

Idaho is primarily an agricultural state, with Eastern Idaho playing a significant role in that.  Last year, Idaho grew over 321,000 acres of potatoes.  Idaho continues to be the highest producer of potatoes in our country with the state of Washington coming in at a distant second at growing around 160,000 acres.  Within our state, Madison County is 3rd in acres grown.  This year we planted 27,154 acres in our county.  Only Bingham and Power County grew more acres.  The USDA last year estimated Idaho’s potato crop at over $1billion dollars in revenue.  With Madison County growing 8.45% of this, this values Madison County potatoes at roughly $85 million dollars.

Also, the support industry that we need to grow, market and ship our potatoes is significant.  This is usually a 3-1 ratio.  So if the value of the Idaho potatoes are $1 billion dollars, the support industry brings in another $3 billion dollars of revenue into our state.  Support industry are companies that supply farm implements, tractors, fuel, transportation, boxes, bags, pallets, fertilizers, pesticides just to name a few.  So if for the state, Idaho’s support industry brings in another $3 billion, Madison’s portion of that would be around $255 million dollars.  That brings the total value of both potato revenues and support industry revenue at around $340 million dollars.

As you can see, the importance of the potato industry in Madison County is extremely high. These farmers have $ millions invested into this amazing growing process and then just a few crucial weeks to harvest this crop.  They depend and rely on these school kids to help with this harvest operation. 

In conclusion, let’s not under estimate the value of what this means to the kids working in harvest as well.  Now this isn’t the most glamourous job out there, but that is ok.  My son over the past 2 years has worked in potato harvest and I can assure you that he values more than ever his education at Madison High and now at BYU Idaho because of the experience he has had working on the farm.  Harvest gives kids an opportunity to make a quick $1,000 in just a short amount of time. It teaches kids how to feed a country and where our food supply comes from.  Why is that important?  Well, you’ve all seen the commercial for our Big Idaho Potato Truck touring the country.  There is a huge potato on the back of this truck that is 28 ft. long, 12 ft. wide and 11.5 ft. tall.  It weighs over 6 tons.  The # 1 question we get about this?  Is that potato real?  Clearly many Americans are out of touch with Agriculture and where our food supply comes from. 

Students helping clear rocks and potato vines on a conveyor belt going into potato storage
Students helping clear rocks and potato vines on a conveyor belt going into potato storage

Potatoes being placed into a storage shed
Potatoes being placed into a storage shed

Time for the farm workers and high school students to head home after a busy day sorting potatoes
Time for the farm workers and high school students to head home after a busy day sorting potatoes