Today’s farmer profile is about Don Kracaw and the Kracaw family. The Kracaw’s developed and successfully operated Winnemucca Farms Inc, for nearly 30 years. Winnemucca Farms is a large commercial farm north of Winnemucca whose specialty is potatoes. Don has been a good friend, and is a man that I have always wanted to emulate. Don is an excellent farmer, a sharp business man, and not a bad golfer. I have learned a lot from Don and I hope I can continue to learn a lot from him.
Don Kracaw lived in Blackfoot, ID for 30 years, prior to moving to Winnemucca, Nevada. He worked on his family’s farm with his father Clair, his brother Jerry and brother-in-law Tack Nakamura. Don’s father Clair began farming in 1939 on the Fort Hall Indian reservation near Blackfoot on 75 acres of rented farm ground. Clair increased the 75 acres into 6,500 acres of farm ground by 1971, and added a potato fresh pack plant. The Kracaw Produce and the Bakewell potato brands were first introduced at this time in Idaho. This was truly a family business.
In the late 1960’s Don’s father Clair began looking for expansion opportunities beyond Idaho. He was looking in the Columbia Basin of Washington; the Columbia Basin was beginning to emerge as a prime potato farming area. However, while Clair was in Winnemucca, Nevada visiting friends, and looking at potential farms in the Kings River area, he noticed a large tract of ground about 15 miles north of Winnemucca. This land’s sage brush was taller than he was, and good sandy soil. After digging around for a few minutes with a shovel, he turned right around and went back to town. It was not long before he had purchased the land, secured water rights and began developing a farm. When the farm was fully developed in 1976 there was well over 10,000 acres in production and 52 agriculture wells had been drilled. There were many development challenges such as the irrigation wells sanding in, but the Kracaws worked through them with patience and hard work, and overcame them in time. Winnemucca Farms was at that time the largest family owned farm in the Western United States.
The Kracaws continued to grow and sell fresh potatoes throughout the western United States. Since Winnemucca was much closer to the Bay area and Phoenix, the Kracaws were able to decrease their freight expense on their potatoes getting them to market.
As Winnemucca Farms increased potato production, there was a large number of off grade potatoes (potatoes that could not be sold into the fresh market) that became available. At the time it was not cost effective to ship these off grade potatoes to a potato processor out of the area. Due to this supply of off grade potatoes the RT French Company built a potato processing plant in Winnemucca. In fact the first “Pringles” potato chips were produced from potato flake from RT French Company’s Winnemucca plant from potatoes grown on Winnemucca Farms. RT French company struggled in Winnemucca, and eventually in the mid 1990’s the Kracaw family purchased the plant and began selling potato flakes to Proctor and Gamble, and also developed “Creamy Mash” which is a line of instant mashed potatoes.
The Kracaws continued to grow potatoes, sell fresh potatoes, and sell potato flake to Proctor and Gamble through the early 2000’s. The Kracaws then sold their farm, fresh pack shed and processing plant to the R.D. Offutt Company (RDO) who at the time were assumed to be the largest potato grower in the United States. RDO continues to operate Winnemucca Farms up to this point.
Don has had a great life working and operating his family farming operation, and stated he would not change a thing.
Dons advice to others –
1-When you have a family business, tend to your business. You will either make it or you won’t. It is your livelihood. Take care of it.
2-Once you get big; you should keep growing.
4-You need to hire smart, honest people and trust them.
5-You need some luck along the way.