Growers are always in need of a break. If Mother Nature isn't throwing them a curveball made out of hail and early frost mingled with a little bit of fickle consumer demand, growers are busy deflecting the societal trend that they're trying to destroy the environment while poisoning consumers at the same time.
Thankfully, there are plenty of companies out there watching growers' backs in order to make their jobs a little easier. One such company, AgParts Manufacturing in Shelley, Idaho, has been giving growers a break for 30 years.
The company has changed hands, locations and its name since the original founding, but AgParts Manufacturing's philosophy remains the same three decades later.
Max Ririe grew up in the southeastern Idaho town with his name, in the heart of potato country. When he was young, he spent his summers as a regular hand on the farm. It wasn't long until his mechanical prowess came to the surface, and he found a job working at a blacksmith and repair shop in Ririe.
After serving in the army for two years during World War II, Ririe graduated from the University of Idaho with a degree in engineering. He spent the next 30 years engineering farm machinery for manufacturers across the country, including almost a decade working on potato equipment alone.
He and his four brothers ventured into and failed with a farming project in the early 1970s, but in the early 80s he had an idea to manufacture a four-inch ball bearing roller with a rubber tire. He made some sketches, collected prices on tooling and bearings and took that valuable experience he gained from his recent failure to start another venture in 1982, at the age of 59.
While still working a full-time job at Double L Manufacturing, Ririe purchased tooling for a four-inch roller, built a press and started producing rollers out of a small, rented space in American Falls, with the help of his wife, MarDean, and daughter, Susan.
The MarDean Company, as AgParts Manufacturing was then called, would assemble a couple hundred rollers one evening, and then Ririe would go on a drive the next evening, looking for growers preparing their equipment for harvest. He'd sell a few rollers with each operation. When the season was over, the small crew had assembled and sold about 4,000 rollers.
Over the years, the company changed its name and has expanded and moved several times-from American Falls to Idaho Falls, down to Payson, Utah, and finally to where it's now housed in Shelley, Idaho. Ririe has since retired, but he pops in the facility about every day.
The current owner, Shane Wootan, who's officially been the tax-paying owner since 2011, is a native of Glenns Ferry. He grew up in the potato industry-his father still owns Black Mesa Farms in Glenns Ferry. His brother also farms in the area and he has another brother who raises potatoes with Potandon. Another brother, Justin, is the inventor of Omni-Trac, a gadget that can be put on a potato planter or a sugarbeet planter to keep the planter on track on sidehills. (See our March 2011 issue of Potato Grower, page 16.)
Shane earned a bachelor's degree from Brigham Young University in manufacturing engineering. From the get-go, Wootan knew he wanted to stay in the potato industry.
"I decided I really enjoy working with people in the potato industry. That's the people that I knew, and that's where I wanted to be," he says.
Wootan was managing his family-owned Glenns Ferry Auto Parts when he was approached in 2004 around harvest time by Ririe and his grandson. By then, Max had already turned over AgParts to his adult grandson, Kirk Ririe, but they were looking for another person to buy into AgParts as a partner. They approached Wootan, who was an AgParts dealer. The visit was an unofficial job interview.
A couple weeks later, Kirk called up Wootan to offer him a job. Wootan declined at the time in order to help out his family, on account of a serious car accident his parents were involved in.
However, two years later Wootan couldn't resist.
"In 2006, I spoke with my dad and said, `I think I would rather go and do this,'" he says.
Wootan became a partner and the general manager of AgParts, which was based in Payson, Utah, at the time.
Primarily a manufacturer of parts for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), AgParts Manufacturing produces rollers, sprockets and standoffs for potato harvest and sugarbeet equipment. They manufacture flanged rollers, scrapers, carrier rollers, shaker rollers, chain idlers, sprockets, standoffs, bearings and bushings. They focus mainly on rollers and sprockets.
"We've maintained that focus so we build a brand," he says. "Our ultimate goal is for the grower to win. If the grower wins, we win. We want to provide the best value to the grower."
When he first started at AgParts, some of their products were brought in from China, which resulted in quality issues, but since then they've switched everything back to domestic manufacturing.
"We get a better product and happier customer," he says.
They were also based in Utah at the time, and Wootan was adamant that AgParts needed to return to Idaho.
Max purchased and renovated an old potato cellar off of State Street in Shelley, and they've been there ever since. AgParts employs eight full-time employees, including Wootan. They ship products all over the United States and Canada, including some off-shore shipping as well.
While AgParts warehouses fly fishing rods for a Swedish company called Loop, they've looked into diversifying and decided to return to their core strength.
"This is what we do and what we do well, and we want to focus on that," he says. "We want to keep our overhead low and our production costs low and be able to fulfill our mission.
"If the grower is not winning, none of us are making money," he says.