As the farm expanded, “the mantra was to obtain economies of scale. The acreage increased, fields got larger, equipment got bigger, irrigation was added, and the yields increased,” Jim says. “The dairy was eliminated and eventually the field corn was phased out in favor of canning vegetables like sweet corn, peas, and snap beans.”
Farm management transitioned to the second generation in the ‘90s and in 1997, Jeff Sommers merged his farm with the Wysockis, bought into equal ownership, and became the farm manager. Today, Wysocki Produce Farm is one of AVG’s Top 100 Growers.
Starting out with 30 acres of potatoes, 30 acres of field corn, 50 acres of alfalfa, 5 acres of cucumbers, and 15 acres of oats, today the farm spans 8,400 acres with 2,688 acres of potatoes, 1,704 acres of snap beans, 939 acres of field corn, 822 acres of alfalfa, 770 acres of sweet corn, 432 acres of peas, and 678 acres in rotation, says Jim, who is CFO of all three operations.
“When we established, we were in one township accessible by tractor in 10 minutes to the furthest fields. We are now in five counties and it is 45 minutes by pickup to the furthest fields,” he says. “The owners used to do most of the actual farm labor and through hard work and long hours they were able to generate several wages each, as well as grow profitable crops. Now the owners’ focus is more on people management, planning, and facility management. The hard work and long hours remain but the tractor driving days are now relegated to hobby farming on weekends.”
Investing For Success
The three operations’ main customers include McCain brand french fries and Seneca canning, as well as retailers Super Valu, Costco, Kroger, Caito, and Sysco.
To remain efficient and cost-effective, Jim says the operation invests heavily on technology and equipment.
“We spend on average $500,000 per year on farm equipment and we spend it on the same level in good and bad years,” he says. “In all our businesses, we focus on making individual tasks simpler or less time consuming and then reorganize job duties when enough changes warrant it.”
He says irrigation is a big area of investment as the farm converts to controlling pivots from a laptop in a truck using a cellular card. The operations also adopted 24-hour tilling, planting, and harvesting 10 years ago as a way to reduce equipment investment and to try to reduce workloads to levels that would attract quality employees.
Currently, Wysocki Produce Farm employs 50 people year-round and 125 seasonally for harvest; Russet Potato Exchange employs 30 people; and Paragon Potato Farms employs 75 people. All three businesses include many Wysocki family members. Russ Wysocki is CEO and manager of Russet Potato Exchange; Gary Wysocki is Paragon Potato Farm specialty products manager. Russ, Gary, and Jim are Louis’ sons, and son-in-law Kirk Wille is Paragon’s raw product and facilities manager. Francis’ son Bill is manager of Paragon Potato Farm and son Dan is farm supervisor. Partner Nick Somers is president of Paragon and Jeff Sommers (no relation to Nick) manages Wysocki Produce Farm. Louis and Francis are still very involved as advisers, Jim says.
“Our management team has faced a lot in our early years with low-price years, flooding rains, late blight, and the fire, and it has made us stronger and more focused on creating sound relationships with each other and our partnering businesses,” he says. “We hope with the grace of God and hard work that we will be able to continue as a unit for awhile.”
Back To The Future
Today, the operation is “transitioning forward to its past” by constructing a 3,000-cow dairy farm to extend rotations, improve soil management, and diversify financial interest, according to Jim.
“We will be using the manure to generate electricity to sell and the composted manure for fertilizer and organic material,” he says. “It also allows us to do less tillage and extend rotations to make the disease and weed pressure abate.”