Sunday, March 26, 2023

Potato business

Staff Writer | January 26, 2023 4:58 PM

KENNEWICK — Tim Prickett said the annual Washington-Oregon Potato Conference is the most important conference he goes to all year.

“It’s the only conference we do all year,” said Prickett, the owner of Rashco Farm Supply in Moses Lake. “We don’t hardly do any other conferences.”

Prickett stood in the midst of a major display showing off what his company sells — new and used farm equipment, lubricants, various and sundry spare parts including hoses, rollers and sprockets, in the main conference hall of the Three Rivers Convention Center in Kennewick on Thursday.

“We’re an after-market parts store. Basically, any after-market parts for machinery — bearings, belts, hoses,” he said.

Business has been good, Prickett said, and this year’s conference has been as well.

The conference, held every year at this time and organized by the Washington Potato Commission and Oregon Potato Commission, features talks from researchers in Oregon and Washington about the latest in potato-related research and brings scores of agricultural supply and farm equipment makers to show off their wares in the convention center itself as well as the hockey rink at the Toyota Center.

It also gives long-time business partners like Warden-based Skone Irrigation and Nebraska-based irrigation pivot maker Reinke a chance to meet and celebrate their work together.

“These guys are the champions,” said Evan Tortel, the northwest territory manager for Reinke, of Skone. “Somebody told me the other day when he calls Skone, I start my sentence and they finish it.”

In fact, in the week before the conference, Reinke named Skone Irrigation, which has operations in both Warden and Pasco, as a top-ten dealership for sales in the U.S. and Canada, saying the company’s Warden outlet has earned Reinke’s Gold Pride Award for sales in 2022 and the Pasco operation earned Reinke’s Diamond Pride award.

“We sell their stuff because it’s the best,” said Larry Remsberg, store manager for Skone in Pasco. “That’s about as extensive as I can get.”

It isn’t just long-established companies that have set up booths for the conference. Ted Koellmann started working for Afrikelp as the company’s pacific northwest sales agronomist seven weeks ago as the South Africa-based company — which harvests a special type of kelp that grows off the coast of South Africa and converts it into fertilizer — and it’s the first time he, or his company, have been represented at the conference.

“There’s a lot of kelp harvested around the world,” Koellmann said. “Not all kelp is harvested sustainably so that you leave the kelp forest and you don't injure it in the process so they can grow back.”

Koellmann said tests show the company’s product can improve potato yields and help level average potato sizes, boosted the size of smaller potatoes and limited the sizes of larger potatoes.

“So you get rid of a lot of the smalls and get rid of a lot of the large potatoes,” he said, “and you get more of the size that you're aiming for. For french fries or baking or whatever it might be.”

There were even a few companies there that don’t do anything obviously agricultural, like Day Wireless Systems, which sells two-radio and data communications systems across the western United States, including in Moses Lake.

“We operate in Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Utah, Montana, and then we're one of the lead Motorola partners in the West,” said Heather Rose, a wireless systems representative for Day Wireless Systems in Pasco. “We sell them to everybody that has a need for safety. We're here because we sell a lot to farmers, especially here in Eastern Washington.”

Two-way radios can be an important way to keep in contact on sprawling farms, especially where cell phone access is limited or spotty, Rose said. In addition, she added Day sells a lot of wireless routers to farmers who install them in their farm machinery to collect and transmit the sensor data increasingly important to precision agriculture.

According to Elizabeth Perkins, a Day sales representative in Moses Lake and Spokane, the equipment is the same kind of two-way radio gear the company sells to police and fire departments across the region.

“EMS, and doing all the lighting on police cars and stuff like that is a big part of what we do,” Perkins said.

“I’ve got little ones,” Rose added, “and every once in a while they come to the shop and they’re building cop cars all the time, so it’s good. They get to see the lights and hear the sounds when they test them.”

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached at



Heather Rose and Elizabeth Perkins of Day Wireless Systems at this year’s Washington-Oregon Potato Conference. The company sell-two radios and data communications equipment to farmers across the region.



Quincy-area potato farmer and Washington Potato Commission member Adam Weber.



Agronomist Ted Koellmann with Afrikelp, which sells fertilizer derived from kelp grown off the coast of South Africa, at this year’s Washington-Oregon Potato Conference. It was the first time for the company to show off its product at the conference, Koellmann said.



Lary Remsberg, store manager for Skone Irrigation in Pasco, and Even Tortel, the northwest territory manager for irrigation pivot maker Reinke, at this year’s Washington-Oregon Potato Conference. Reinke named Skone one of its top-ten retailers for 2022. “These guys are the champions,” Tortel said of Skone.

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