The Lifer

Eric Sutton of Rexburg, Idaho

Published online: Mar 08, 2017 Grower of the Month
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This article appears in the August 2016 issue of Potato Grower.

Over the last 130 years or so, six generations of the Sutton family have raised families and crops on the fertile ground of eastern Idaho’s Rexburg Bench. They were among the first pioneer families to settle the area. And in 500 years, when the rest of humanity is leaving Earth for greener pastures on, say, Neptune, Suttons will probably still be living on the Bench, growing potatoes and steadfastly refusing to leave the place they love.

For now, though, Eric Sutton doesn’t have to worry about that. He is happy to be exactly where he is, doing precisely what he was born to do.

“This is a really nice area,” Sutton says as he surveys one of his potato fields from his pickup. This particular field has a spectacular view to the north and east of the city of Rexburg and, beyond it, the famed St. Anthony Sand Dunes. “This is all a lot of work, but you get to be outside and enjoy the area and the beauty and watch things grow.”

Sutton has always had that appreciation for farming—not only the profession, but the life it entails as well. As a kid, he was constantly in the fields with his father, Garth, and he could never quite envision himself doing anything else. The soil, the crops, the wind, the machinery, the neighbors—it all resonated with Sutton, and he just couldn’t picture himself leaving and doing something else.

“I’ve always been here; this area was always home,” he says. “This was the plan. Even when I didn’t really know what I was doing, I always wanted to be here.”

So he stayed. He eventually worked his way up to becoming a partner and part-owner of the farm with his dad and three brothers, Shane, Rick and Josh. As the years went by, though, Eric realized that, in spite of everyone’s best intentions, the organization of the family farm would ultimately need to see a little change in order to survive for future generations. When the 2016 growing season began, Eric Sutton was running his own operation.

Today, Sutton farms some 1,100 total acres, with 270 acres dedicated to Russet Burbank potatoes, all bound for local fresh-pack sheds. Going forward, he hopes to increase his potato acreage to around 500. Obviously, family is still farming right next door, but Sutton acknowledges that there are a few new elements to being on his own.

“It’s not a really big difference doing my own thing now,” he says. “It’s pretty much the same, except I get to take care of all the problems. There’s bad, but there’s definitely good.”

Sutton is currently in the first year of his second three-year term on the board of Potatoes USA, an organization he feels is important for all growers to take a turn participating in. “It’s important to be involved and see where you can help to move the industry forward,” he says. “It’s always changing. Different markets are always opening up. It’s good to be involved and try to move things in a direction that benefits all the industry.”

The potato industry has been good to Sutton, and he and his wife Andrea say there’s no other way they’d rather raise their five children. Six generations of Suttons have proudly farmed this ground, and a seventh is on its way up. Whether they ultimately come back to the farm or not, Sutton is confident this is where he and his family need to be.

“It’s a pretty good life, but not everybody wants to do it,” he says. “It’s pretty rewarding at the end of the year, but it’s a lot of work. If you only kind of like it, you’re kind of going to be gone.”

Eric Sutton is most certainly not gone. That alone should tell you how he feels.