All the Tools in the Toolbox

Curtis Stoddard of Grace, Idaho

Published in the January 2013 Issue Published online: Jan 23, 2013 Tyler J. Baum
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In the old days, growers were limited in the number of tools they had at their disposal in their metaphorical toolbox. There was only so much you could do to plant, grow and harvest a crop, all

"Stoddard Boys. From left, Jordan, Curtis, Jason and Jeremy Stoddard.
"Dormant Winter. Curtis Stoddard says that their operation starts harvesting potatoes by Sept. 15, with the goal of being finished digging when the month of October begins. "We try not to dig too many in October. It's okay for a few days, but we don't want to dig very many, he says.
"Summer Irrigation. The lava flow that created the Gem Valley also diverted the Bear River from its Pacific drainage into the Great Basin. This was a significant contributor to the growth of the prehistoric Lake Bonneville, of which the Great Salt Lake is a remnant. Courtesy photo.
"Hauling Potatoes. A full 10-wheeler takes another load of Russet seed to the storage to be sorted. Courtesy photo.
"Harvest Mountains. The valley floor of the Gem Valley, where the farming community of Grace is located, ranges in elevation from 4,800 to 6,000 feet and is completely surrounded by mountain ranges that extend over 9,000 feet in elevation. Courtesy photo.
"Finished! Another field is completely harvested on a gorgeous autumn day in the Gem Valley of Idaho. Courtesy photo.

while protecting it from continuous onslaughts from various diseases and pests.

But it's now the 21st century, and growers have toolboxes packed full of new tools that past generations didn't have-including smartphones and united grower organizations.

Curtis Stoddard, 57, of Grace, Idaho, and his sons make certain to use all the tools in that toolbox in order to make a successful organization and carry on the legacy of Curtis's father, the late Frank Stoddard. For that reason, Curtis has been chosen as the 2012 Idaho Crop Improvement Seed Grower of the Year.

Finding Grace

Frank was a first-generation grower, growing potatoes in the Egin Bench area in the Upper Snake River Valley in the 1950s. He and his family moved to Bonneville County and started growing potatoes south of Idaho Falls before a new opportunity in the Gem Valley presented itself. Frank's father-in-law informed him of 160 acres for rent outside the community of Grace, which was where Frank's wife, Donna, had lived. Frank took that opportunity and moved to Grace with his family in 1956.

The Stoddards have remained in Grace ever since.

While Curtis was growing up, being Frank's one and only son, he became Frank's right-hand man. But he didn't mind it at all.

"I enjoyed working with my dad every day and being outdoors. I guess it was at an early age I wanted to come back and farm," he says.

Curtis attended Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, graduating with a degree in agricultural economics and real estate finance in 1977. As soon as he graduated, he returned to the farm.

Stoddard Farms, Inc., grows about 1,100 acres of seed potatoes, selling to commercial growers from Blackfoot all the way into the Columbia Basin in Washington state. In the past, they grew a plethora of varieties, but now they're back to the basics of growing Ranger Russet, Burbank and Umatilla seed.

"It seems like a lot of varieties have come and gone in the last 10-15 years," he says.

They grow a little bit of wheat, but most of their rotational crops are malt barley, which is on a three- to four-year rotation.

The Stoddards go by the calendar with planting and harvesting. They usually start planting May 5-8, and start harvest Sept. 15.

"We try not to dig too many in October," he points out. "It's OK for a few days, but we don't want to dig very many."

Curtis says that the short growing season is one of their biggest challenges.

"When the calendar says it's time to do it, why, you'd better," he says. "It pays to be well organized and ready to get it done."

The isolation in the Gem Valley helps them keep ahead of pests and bugs, but just like other growers, they have their water worries from time to time-including whether or not there will be sufficient snowpack this winter.

Being Blessed

Curtis has been on the National Potato Promotion Board (now the U.S. Potato Board), has served on the potato advisory committee for ICIA and was on the board of directors for the Idaho Ag Credit Board for several years. He has also served on local irrigation committees. As an operation, they are members of United II Potato Growers-Idaho.

He attributes the success of their operation to being blessed with excellent employees and excellent customers, a solid base established by his father.

"We've been blessed to be associated with some really good people, both customers and employees," he says.

Stoddard doesn't have a negative thing to say about anyone he works with-from customers to machinery dealers to chemical reps to even magazine editors.

"We've been lucky to be here and associate with a lot of good people. I think relying on everybody in the industry [and] their expertise, and using all the tools in the toolbox has helped us."

He says that among the tools in that toolbox are technology and the ability of the next generation to use innovation to take the operation to another level. He uses smartphones all the time, but to him it's a learned skill; he observes that it comes naturally to his boys.

"I work at it, and they enjoy it," he says. "It's second-nature to them."

He has worked hard to streamline operations on the farm so that the work isn't as labor-intensive-"doing more with less"-so it's easier to manage. That way, they can deliver high-quality goods to their customers "in good order."

Stoddard says the future for agriculture as a whole and for the potato industry specifically is bright, though we still need to work at changing the public perception that the french fry is the poster child for fattening food-not pastries, cookies, soda or milkshakes.

Big Help

Stoddard Farms employs eight people full-time during the year, and about 50-55 people during harvest. Those full-time employees include three of his sons: Jeremy, Jason and Jordan. He and his wife, Jane, have five children: Jeremy, Jaime, Jason, Jordan and Justin.

The boys who have returned have really contributed to the operation. Curtis told them all before they left for college that, if they wanted to come back and farm, they had to bring something back that was of value to the farm-and so they returned with degrees. Jeremy graduated from Utah State, Jason from BYU and Jordan from the University of Idaho. Jason also attained a law degree from the University of Iowa; however, after working as an attorney in Las Vegas for a year, he returned to the farm. Justin is currently at Dixie State College in St. George, Utah, pursuing a degree in Spanish and Jaime works at the local elementary school.

Along with watching the crops grow and flourish, Curtis enjoys the opportunity of working with three of his sons every day, much like he had the opportunity to work with his father, Frank, who passed away in November at age 87.

"I like seeing things out in the field that I'm proud of," he says.