Potato Grower

September 2017

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WWW.POTATOGROWER.COM 17 "For so many decades, everything for us revolved around the potato industry," says Tom Kirsch's son Michael, who now heads up the Madras Farms operation. "We had a lot of potato expertise from my dad growing them for so many years. Our core people understood the industry and the operations of it. I didn't want to lose that knowledge base." Opportunity knocked in 2012, when a neighboring grower encouraged the Kirsches to look into growing seed potatoes for the chipping market. The Kirsches performed their due diligence and determined that, indeed, this avenue back into the potato game looked to be a profitable one. Madras Farms is now in its sixth season growing Generation 2 seed potatoes, most of which are bound for the fertile soils of the Columbia Basin. "Already being into quality seed production, seed potatoes fit well into our operation," says Tom. "And we've got some good potato history." "We have a good area to grow potatoes," Michael agrees, "and it would have been a shame if the day came when we couldn't use that expertise my dad has in growing potatoes. I feel like it was important—even if it was just a short, five- or six-year stint we grew them—for the new generation to be able to run with it and grow potatoes if we needed to in the future. "The economics also showed it was a profitable enterprise. It fits well with our seed crop mix, with our rotations, keeping fields clean, and for a lot of agronomic reasons." Currently, only about 60 of Madras Farms' 2,000 cultivated acres are under seed potatoes. The Kirsches expect that number to steadily climb into the future. With such a diverse crop portfolio, they feel they are primed to ramp up potato production as that part of their business grows. "Right now, potatoes are a profitable enterprise for us," says Michael. "Every year, we're re-evaluating it, taking a serious look at expanding our acreage. We're probably as diverse as anyone in the Deschutes Basin as far as our crop mix, which brings with it good and bad. If we ever need to hone in and be more specific in our enterprises, potatoes would be one of those." For the time being, though, crop diversity provides many benefits worth holding onto for Madras Farms. Among those is an assurance of a good, reliable workforce. Many farms, particularly in rural central Oregon, require varying amounts of labor at different times throughout the year. Producing such a variety of crops forces Madras Farms to retain most of its employees year-round, but it also gives the operation a leg up in the quality personnel department. While other growers are out searching for workers every year, the Kirsches and their already trusted employees are already at work producing high-end seed crops. With Mt. Hood looming to the northwest, Michael and Tom Kirsch inspect a fi eld of seed potatoes just outside Madras, Ore. Bees are brought in to pollinate the Kirsches' hybrid seed carrot crop.

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