Kim Wahlen Works Hard In Industry He Grew Up In
Kim Wahlen is a third-generation potato grower, farming about 6,000 acres near his hometown of Aberdeen, Idaho. His grandfather, Peter Frederick Wahlen, immigrated from Sweden to Salt Lake City, Utah, nearly 90 years ago.
He rode a Harley Davidson motorcycle up to Idaho when he was 19 years old, and homesteaded the farm that my dad lives on now,” Kim said. “Dad farmed until he was 76 years.”
Kim was born and raised in Aberdeen. He loves his small town and is very active in the community.
Wahlen’s wife, Connie, is a California transplant (he met her at Brigham Young University). Together, they make a good team, along with their six children. The two oldest daughters are married: Angie Daw from Blackfoot, Idaho, and Jill Lucas from American Falls. Daughter Hailey is a student at Brigham Young University-Idaho. Sons Tanner and Garrett attend Aberdeen High as a junior and freshman and help on the farm. Their youngest daughter, Whitney, is a fifth grader. Kim and Connie are now grandparents, “which of course is wonderful.” Kim said.
In 2006, Kim will have about 1,710 acres of potatoes, down from a high of 1,951 acres in 2004. He also raises 1,600 acres of sugarbeets and has shares in Amalgamated Sugar Company, a grower-owned sugar co-op. The balance of the farm is in wheat. He is one of the original owners of Pleasant Valley Potato, which markets his potatoes.
“My other partners in that venture are Val Wahlen, Ray Duffin, Barry Christensen, Dwight Horsch and Eric Wahlen,” Kim said.
Eric also is the general manager.
About half of Wahlen’s farm is watered with wheel lines and the other half with linear and pivot irrigation.
“Most of the water comes from deep wells, especially the land I farm in Pleasant Valley,” Kim said. “The land near Aberdeen and the property on the Indian reservation is supplied by canal water.”
He had an adequate water supply during most of the past several years of drought.
Kim raises several types of potatoes, including Norkotahs and Russet Burbanks.
“Starting last year, I’ve raised a few of the new western Russet variety, which has high solids and is a good fresh potato and gives a high percentage of number ones,” he said. “It has a good propensity for size and is a very good baking potato.”
Kim has a lifetime of experiences in making decisions and managing crops, but he also enjoys a second opinion and uses knowledge and help from crop consultants Ray Hollist in Shelly, Idaho, and Rod Lake, Burley, Idaho.
“Production isn’t always easy; it changes all the time,” Kim said. “To stay competitive, you really have to stay on top of everything. Information from universities, discussions with other growers, and the use of these consultants has really helped me plus the records we keep. We try to improve everything we do, every year.”
He has been farming almost all his life, but he believes success starts with a great team. He credits the success of his operation to the fact he has very good help.
“If they were to quit, I would probably quit, too,” Kim said. “I have really good people, making it all work. My top people include Gary Nelson, Amadeo Ramirez, Tim Nelson, Manual Morado, Jesus Garcia, Mike Obrien and my bookkeeper, Joan Phillips.
“Managing financial responsibilities is tough. You need a good partner you can depend on. U.S. Bank has been a good partner for me.
“Today, the financial concerns of running a farm this size takes quite a bit of my time. My bankers have always been there for me and I credit them with a lot of the successes we’ve had.”
United Fresh Potato Growers
Wahlen is active in a new organization called United Fresh Potato Growers of Idaho.
“The downside of the potato business is the instability of the potato market,” he said. “I am really worried about the potato industry, especially with increased energy costs. I was very troubled, in the past, about how we market our crop. Everyone was doing major expansion and the market was too mature to handle it.”
In September 2004, several growers led by Albert Wada decided to organize and do something about it, forming United Fresh Potato Growers (United). Today, between 70 percent and 80 percent of the fresh potato acres in Idaho are grown by United members.
“We’ve been successful in trimming the acreage being grown and in large part are responsible for the good market we are enjoying now,” he said. “It hasn’t been easy. Many sacrifices have been made, and it is still a work in progress. We need others to join us. The stronger our membership becomes, the greater our chances for success. Everyone can see the benefits of United, but it all comes down to whether people want to pay their portion of the bill or just benefit from the sacrifices of others.
“United Fresh Potato Growers of Idaho has an exclusive agreement with the owners of the new western Russet variety, ensuring that it will only be grown as a fresh potato from Idaho. I am hoping this potato will work out well for our operation. We’ve had very good luck with it so far, and it will probably be accepted very well by the fresh receivers.”
He feels the potato market is fairly strong now, and expects it to get even better through the year.
“We in Idaho have 100,000 less acres in potatoes than we did in the year 2000, so that’s making a difference in the market,” Kim said. “If someone had told me then that we’d have 100,000 less acres in 2005, I would not have believed it.
“I very much appreciate what the Idaho Potato Commission has done, in helping educate the consumer that the potato is part of a healthy diet. I am happy with results from the money that I spend there.”
Kim is glad to be a potato grower and loves the business.
“One of the greatest things about the potato industry is the people in it,” Kim said.
He is a strong believer in the Agrarian Creed, which states that those who work with the soil are naturally closer to God.
He also hopes that at least one of his boys will farm.
“But they have to figure this out for themselves,” he said. “I don’t push it. I feel that it’s best for young people to make their own way. My dad was so great for me, and I couldn’t be where I am now without him, but he also let us work and earn our own way.”