GEORGE, Wash. — Ron DeLay says he’s gone soft. GPS has spoiled him for the last 10 years or more when it comes to planting potatoes.
“They use to call me ‘bubble butt’ because I could plant real straight and it was all in the feel of the field,” says DeLay, 58, Royal City.
“I would mark out a line and follow it, eyeball and seat of my pants. I could feel the contour of the land and keep it (the tractor) straight. A lot of guys couldn’t do it. It was a gift I had,” he says.
But now, DeLay reads the newspaper some as he plants since GPS, the satellite navigation Global Positioning System, keeps him on track.
“It’s a good thing I was younger when I did that,” he says. “I would go home and I couldn’t sleep because I was all knotted up in my back from holding the line.”
DeLay has been planting potatoes and managing them and doing other jobs for Jerry Allred, a Royal City grower, for 34 years.
DeLay flies a U.S. flag from the cab of his tractor.
“As long as there’s troops dying overseas, I’ll fly the flag,” he says. “I’m the kind of guy that if I see a soldier I go up and thank him for his service.”
His potato planting usually runs March 21 to April 21. This year was no exception, even with the early spring. DeLay started planting 900 acres on March 21. Rangers Russets are first and later Umatilla Russets.
“We buy our seed out of Canada, Montana and north of Spokane, 90,000 pounds. Those are colder areas where disease and bugs are less. We buy a year ahead of time. It’s shipped down and we cut it ourselves,” he said.
Their production is contracted with ConAgra Foods, in Quincy, for french fries.
The Allred Farm is planting the same amount of potatoes as it did last year, despite the work slow down at West Coast ports that cost the industry $48 million of lost frozen potato product exports in November, December and January alone. That’s according to the Washington Potato Commission.
“ConAgra was full. Farmers couldn’t get rid of them. Some were starting to rot. Japan couldn’t get french fries,” DeLay said. “But farmers are on contract. They get their money whether they sit or not.”