50 for 50: CSS Farms

Published online: Feb 10, 2021 50 for 50, Articles, Grower of the Month Tyrell Marchant, Editor
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Throughout 2021, as part of Potato Grower’s celebration of our 50th year in publication, we will be honoring in our pages and on our website 50 of the potato industry’s most innovative and influential individuals, companies and organizations over the past half-century. This “50 for 50” series will include researchers, salesmen, packers, processors and, of course, plenty of potato growers. A lot of them will be names you’ve heard before. To some, you’ll get a fresh introduction. Regardless, each has had an outsize impact on the U.S. potato industry, and each deserves our thanks and recognition.

This article appears in the February 2021 issue of Potato Grower.

Chipping potatoes grown at the CSS Farms location in Columbus, Neb.

CSS Farms was founded in 1986 when Milt Carter and Randy Spevak partnered to grow their first field of potatoes in Waterton, S.D. With an official mission statement of “Growing great together” and a vision for leading the way in stewardship and solutions, CSS Farms has expanded over the years to the point it now has a presence in 13 states.

Since its inception, CSS Farms has been able to grow its business thanks to a top-down commitment to excellence and a concentration on two key tenets. The first is a focus on what customers really need—particularly a reliable supply of quality potatoes close to their respective markets. The second is a willingness to explore growing potatoes in areas of the country not traditionally known for growing potatoes in order to have them closer to those markets. That has led to the company’s expansion to locations in no fewer than 13 states, from New York to California, and from Texas to the Dakotas.

“A big step for us was becoming vertically integrated with our seed,” says CSS Farms co-founder Milt Carter. “As we expanded production of our commercial potatoes to places like Nebraska and Texas, it gave us a more reliable supply of quality seed closer to those production areas. This vertical integration strengthened our position with major customers and facilitated further growth.”

In 2010, CSS Farms formed a partnership with Wisconsin-based RPE and Plover River Farms to form Tasteful Selections, which has become a pioneer in building overall baby potato business in the U.S.

“From the beginning, Randy was the visionary who pushed us to try new ventures in new areas,” says Carter. “He firmly believed that we either had to grow or die.”

Carter also points to the contributions of myriad partners and employees, many of whom have been willing to relocate as the company grew. Included among them are longtime CFO Robin Stamp, and father and son Bob and Nathan Bender, who were brought on to lead CSS’s baby potato business. CSS Farms leadership has always made a point to bring in people they could trust to do their job well, then leave them to do just that.

“We have tried to keep our operations decentralized as much as possible,” says Carter. “We try to give our farm managers and agronomists in new areas the autonomy and responsibility to run their operations the way they think would work best in their areas. And it has worked for us.”

Potato planting at the CSS Farms location in Dalhart, Texas