50 for 50: Mark Coombs

Published online: Mar 09, 2021 50 for 50, 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 March 2021 issue of Potato Grower.

Mark Coombs grew up the fourth and youngest son of Dean Coombs, who, as Mark puts it, “took this farm out of the brush” in 1950. One by one, each of his brothers grew up and left the farm, but the farm in Middleton, Idaho, was Mark’s home, and he wanted in. After college, he returned in 1978 to help his father run the farm.

“It’s always been one of my dreams to be on the farm,” Coombs says. “I often wonder what it would’ve been like if I’d done something different. You always wonder what the future would’ve held, but this is what I wanted.”

If he had done something different, the Coombs property may never have had a potato grown on it. Beef cattle had been the backbone of the operation since Dean had settle in the area in 1950. Around the time of Dean’s death in 1984, the decision was made to transition to row crops, primarily wheat and corn. In 1989, Mark began growing Russet Burbank potatoes, even serving a stint as a commissioner on the Idaho Potato Commission (IPC). While a potato crop hasn’t been a part of his farming operation for a few years, he remains closely connected with the Idaho potato industry. 

Coombs is perhaps best known as the face of Idaho potato growers in the Idaho Potato Commission’s series of commercials that have run on national television the past 10 years. He says he’s not sure how the IPC and its public-relations team decided he was the best choice to appear in the role of “Actual Potato Farmer,” but says he’s relished the opportunity.

“Mark has been a perfect representation of the wonderful potato growers we have in Idaho,” says Frank Muir, president and CEO of the IPC. “Folks want to know who grows their food. Mark’s wholesome sense of humor provides comfort to consumers that Idaho potatoes are in good hands.”

Thanks to the ad campaign, Coombs has gained a little notoriety. But the most important part of the agriculture industry to Coombs remains what it always has been: the ground his father cleared and on which he grew up, and the family he has raised on that ground.