potato farm thrives with twice as many acres producing this year.
drought conditions making it more difficult for cattle breeding, CSS FARMS
and SMITH RANCHES have joined together planting potatoes in February
and after harvest planting rye for winter grazing for the cattle.
Kermit potato farm
fills Frito-Lay niche
THE ODESSA AMERICAN ARTICLE 7-2004
is the article that was published in the Winkler County News on July
photos of the harvest.
THE ODESSA AMERICAN
Pecos has its cantaloupe. Seminole has cotton and peanuts.
And now, with its potato-chip potato, Winkler County has joined other
West Texas counties that support commercial farming.
In the next few days, CSS Farms will wrap up the harvest of 380,000 to
400,000 pounds of potatoes grown exclusively for snack-food giant
Frito-Lay, said Dennis Janke, general manager of CSS Farms’ Texas
Technical changes — and a bit more rain this spring — helped improve the
yield by about 100,000 pounds more than the previous three years, Janke
“Sometimes it can be a little bit harsh, but this year was more normal
for the area,” Janke said.
The potatoes grown just outside Kermit — about 40 miles west of Odessa —
are made into Lay’s potato chips, Ruffles and Wavy Lay’s at several
Frito-Lay plants in Texas, Janke said.
The West Texas crop “fills a niche” for Frito-Lay by closing gaps in
harvest times, Janke said.
South of Kermit, the potatoes are grown on land owned by Kermit rancher
and oilman Rick Smith, who said CSS Farms’ representatives “just pulled
into town cold turkey” and asked him if he would be interested in doing
business with them.
Smith provides the land, irrigation pivots and water wells. CSS
furnishes the labor and, along with Frito-Lay, is responsible for
quality control, Smith said.
The lengths to which both companies go to ensure consistent quality
Applying fertilizer is akin to a scientific experiment, with little left
to chance, he said.
“They don’t like rain,” Smith said. “When they put (fertilizer) on …
they may put down three-quarters of an inch of water or an
inch-and-a-quarter or one inch to try to get that fertilizer right were
that tuber is,” Smith said. “If it rains, they can’t control the depth
of that water.”
And Frito Lay is “very, very strict” about ensuring that the potatoes
meet their standards, Smith said.
When harvesting begins, Frito-Lay sends a representative to test their
“When the potatoes come out, he’ll get six to 10 of them, and he fries
‘em right there, just like you’d do at the plant,” Smith said. “And if
they don’t fry right, they’ll reject the whole load.”
Frito-Lay has never rejected a Winkler County crop, “but we know they
wouldn’t hesitate to do that,” Smith said.
Smith attributed the success of the potato-chip farm to Winkler County’s
sandy soil, sweet water and low rainfall.
And yet, even though growing conditions are ideal there, this is the
first commercial farm to operate in Winkler County, Smith said.
“This is it. It’s an unusual deal to occur.”
Unusual, maybe, but CSS Farms has been good for the county and the small
town of Kermit, Smith said.
It’s estimated the farm generates about $40,000 in tax revenues annually
through the creation of about 30 to 40 jobs each year.