And then there were two.
Central Oregon is now home to only two potato grower operations-both seed. One of them, the Macys of Macy Farms, LLC, in Culver, Ore., are among the last of a dying breed in the area.
Ed Macy, 67, has been farming for the past four decades-since about 1970, when he graduated from Oregon State University, where he majored in Soils, and later in Ag Business. He lived in Homedale, Idaho, until he was four years old. At that time, Ed's father, Dwight, farmed with a brother until the land became too small for the both of them. Dwight moved his family to Culver in the fall of 1947, purchased land and started farming.
To Ed, it was a natural thing to want to come back to the farm. After he graduated with his bachelor's degree in Agriculture, he worked for Shell Chemical Company in its fertilizer division for a little while, spent a little time in the military and got married.
"I've been farming ever since," he says.
He went into a partnership with his father in 1970, and was joined on the farm a few short years later by Ed's brother, Richard. As soon as Richard graduated from OSU in 1975, they formed a corporation in 1976. Since then, they've been joined by Ed's son, Mike, who graduated with his bachelor's degree in crop science-also from OSU-in 1995. Ed and Richard have another brother who used to farm with them-John, who is a medical doctor by education. He returned to the farm for a few years until his kids graduated high school and all began attending private college at the same time.
Dwight passed away about six years ago-followed by his wife three years later.
This year, the Macys are growing eight different varieties: two Russets (Burbanks and Norkotahs), two round whites (Pike and Atlantic), three creamers and one Frito-Lay variety.
Over the past 15 years since Mike has been part of the farm, Macy Farms has added more land but has unincorporated to become an LLC. Macy Farms raises about 1,640 acres of irrigated crop, of which about 290 are seed potatoes. They're also growing 290 acres of bluegrass seed, 240 acres of hybrid carrot seed, 600 acres of seed wheat, seed barley, alfalfa hay and 70 acres of peppermint for oil. (Macy Farms partially owns a local peppermint refinery.)
Late blight, though they watch for it, is pretty much a non-issue. One of their biggest challenges, however, is that they can have frost any month.
During the season, the Macys are allotted two acre-feet of water per acre for all their crops.
"Water conservation is something that we have to practice and do practice. And we have had some ground that's had junior rights added later on-that's usually one acre-foot. You get very much of that, and you've got a problem," he says.
In Culver, the Macys can store 80,000 cwt of potatoes, which they ship out in the spring to places like the Columbia Basin to the north, the Klamath Basin to the south, California farther south and Malheur County to the east-a distance alone of about 300 miles.
Leaders in Oregon
Being that there are now so few potato growers in their area, all three have had opportunities to take industry leadership positions-particularly for the Oregon Potato Commission. The farm is a member of the Oregon/Washington chapter of United Potato Growers of America, and Ed is on the board of directors.
Ed was serving with the Oregon Potato Commission for a number of years, and from there served on the National Potato Council. He was on the Executive Committee for about four or five years when, about 10 years ago, he resigned because his wife was having health problems and couldn't travel with him as much.
Richard, 56, has been involved with the Oregon Seed Growers Association, as well as served on the National Potato Promotion Board for six years. Mike, 38, has also been involved with the OPC.
Ed says, "It used to be easier for us to get involved in this area, but because there's been so many people quit growing potatoes, we're down to one representative, and that's Jim [Carlson's] position. When Jim can either no longer serve because of the term limitations or he retires, it's real likely [Richard or Mike] will serve on the Potato Commission for a period of time."
Ed says that among the things that make a successful operation in Central Oregon, diversification is a necessity.
"If we were totally in the seed potato business, we'd have been gone. There are years we just wouldn't have survived. And then with rotations and everything, you've got to have other crops that will carry. We've been fortunate."
A benefit to living in Central Oregon has been the isolation. Besides dry land wheat country within 50 miles, everything else is anywhere from 100 to 130 miles away.
"Everything except the alfalfa and the peppermint pretty much is for seed crops. And that's worked to our benefit."
Despite their isolation, their proximity to markets is still good.
"We're relatively close to the commercial areas for transportation purposes," Richard says. "That's a real positive. We're close to the Columbia Basin, we're close to the Klamath area, and we're real close in comparison to the businesses that ship some of these chip varieties."
Mike enjoys the challenge of growing potatoes.
"Potatoes is the one crop that you don't know for sure what's in the ground the whole year until harvest. The other crops you kind of have a good idea, or maybe a better idea, all the way through the year,"
he says. "I love the lifestyle."
Ed also enjoys the outdoor lifestyle and can't imagine doing anything else, though hard as it may be some of the time. In certain times of the year they become chained to the farm rather than being the bosses of it, Ed says that those times are offset by quieter times in the fall-when they're allowed to hunt with pack horses or go steelhead fishing.
"From March through October, we work long, hard days, but offset that with hunting and fishing days off, as well as trips with the family the rest of the year."
Richard enjoys the way that lifestyle is an influence in the raising of a family.
"It teaches a young man how to work and appreciate values and live out in the country. That opportunity to raise a family is very important to me."
Richard has three sons, one of which is a basketball and baseball coach at the local high school, and who may be thinking seriously of returning to the farm.
As far as others returning to the farm, it's too early to tell. Mike has two little girls-ages 6 and 4. Although the older one has said she'd stick around, Mike is quick to point out, "She is six, so.."