For Love of the Game

Telford Sun Valley & Lost River Seed

Published online: Nov 07, 2018 Grower of the Month
Viewed 1311 time(s)

This article appears in Potato Grower's Idaho Annual issue.

Gray clouds veil a good chunk of the sky and a cool-but-not-cold fall breeze is moving across the high desert, but for now at least, the rain that has been threatening to fall for the last three days is holding off. And for the Telfords, that’s a good thing. It’s Oct. 2, and they’re hoping to wrap up harvest this afternoon.

“This is the earliest we’ve finished spud harvest in a long, long time,” says Mike Telford, the family’s patriarch.

Telford has been growing potatoes for a long time, period. He moved to Idaho from Utah in the early 1970s and harvested his first potato crop in 1974. Today, he operates a highly diversified operation (including a stock herd of beef cattle) that stretches from near the banks of the Snake River on the south to Arco on the north with five of his sons—Mark, Aaron, Ryan, Bob and Jared.

“In fact,” Telford says, “I just have to boast about something: Earlier this fall, we harvested seven crops in nine locations on the same day. That was something we’d never done before, and I don’t know if we’ll ever do it again. We could do it thanks to lots of good help.”

He lets out a giddy, triumphant laugh, unable to hold in his elation at the accomplishment even weeks after the fact. It’s a youthful sound, illustrating the joy—even the thrill—Telford still gets from farming. This is what feels he was born to do, and it’s tough to argue. A grower—and especially a seed potato grower—doesn’t stay in business, much less steadily grow his operation, for decades without at least a smidgen of innate ability and desire. He says he can’t even begin to count the people and relationships in the industry that have helped him along the way.

In fact, Telford suggests the best way to compose an article about his family’s farm would be to simply ask around the Idaho potato industry about people’s relationships with him. He has sold seed across the state for a lot of years, and there probably aren’t many in the industry who haven’t done at least some work with him.

“I don’t know what you’ll find out,” he says, “but I’d just as soon have some unvarnished honesty.”

Alas, deadlines for growers and writers alike made all that legwork a little too much. But Telford is probably right; taking a straw poll would make for a fun story. And though he is a well-informed grower and a savvy businessman, the fun of it all is why Mike Telford is still at it. At 71, Telford shows no signs of slowing down or wanting to step away from the farm.

“If you had all the money in the world and could retire and do anything you wanted to do, what would you do?” he asks rhetorically. “My answer would be: exactly what I’m doing.”

He lets loose with that grin and exuberant laugh again.

“I just wanted to own a piece of the rock and have a legacy and pass it on.”