Potato Grower

February 2021

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20 POTATO GROWER | FEBRUARY 2021 LEARNED Montana seed potato growers cultivate mentor/protégé relationships from the Best Matt Foth wasn't supposed to be a potato grower. But then again, maybe he was. Talking to him now, driving around his farm, it certainly feels like that's what he was born to do. All the 15-year-old Foth wanted was a summer job. And he got one, working for respected seed potato grower Bill Skinner in Toston, Mont. "In my teens, I wasn't thinking, 'This is my dream,'" says Foth. "It was just a summer job like every kid got, making some money to buy your first car." Those summer days would start with an half-hour drive to the farm in Toston from Manhattan, where the Foth and Skinner families both lived. And they ended with another half-hour drive home each night. "In my late teens, in those coming-of-age years, I probably spent as much time with Bill as anybody," says Foth. "If I needed somebody to talk to, if I was struggling with something, I would quite often go to Bill. He was really like a second father figure to me." After a four-year stint as a firefighter in the Army National Guard, Foth brought his young family back Toston and started working full-time for Skinner. And he loved it. But he wanted something more. So, in 1999, he leased five acres and grew his very own crop of early-generation seed potatoes—with a big helping hand from Skinner. Aside from being his first customer, Skinner helped Foth in many other ways. "Growing those early gens was probably something Bill could have just done himself," Foth says, "but he gave me the opportunity. Without his help, it would have been virtually impossible for me to get started. Those first few years he just let me use some of his equipment, no charge. He took me on trips to visit with customers in the Columbia Basin. He helped out in a lot of ways, not just monetary." After a few years, Foth was able to transition to working full- time growing his own crop, while maintaining a close relationship with Skinner. When Skinner decided to retire after the 2018 harvest, Foth was ready to step in and buy the whole operation, more than doubling his acres. And he's making the most of it— with the occasional helping had from his old friend and mentor, of course. "I still take Bill's advice to heart," says Foth. "If I'm having a problem out in the field, he's the first one I call." In 2020, Matt Foth was able to purchase 500 acres of farm ground, fulfilling a longtime dream to "own my own dirt."

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