50 for 50: Pieper Farms/Plant Grow Harvest

Published online: May 17, 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 May 2021 issue of Potato Grower.

At nearly the northernmost point of the continental United States exists a distinct microclimate — formed by a combination of its proximity to a large body of water, the surrounding forests and its extreme latitude — that provides a uniquely perfect environment for seed potato production. It is here, on the shores of Lake of the Woods, in the far reaches of Minnesota, that Pieper Farms has spent 75 years forging one of the strongest reputations for high-quality seed in the world.

Many farmers have their roots in the very dirt where they have farmed for generations. But to prosper in today’s agricultural environment, success often requires innovating far beyond traditional practices. The folks at Pieper Farms in Williams, Minn., have always been about growth and innovation. Since its start in 1945, Pieper Farms has expanded from a mostly regional seed provider to marketing and shipping seed potatoes worldwide. In 2013, Pieper Farms was acquired by B. Zaitz & Sons, an agricultural development and operations company that specializes in vertically integrated farming operations. They started a sister company called Plant Grow Harvest that runs in concert with Pieper Farms, the purpose of which is to find supply chain solutions for commercial growers, whether those solutions are solved by their own farm or another seed producer.

“We really value our relationships with other growers,” says CEO David Zaitz. “It’s difficult to be all things to all people in the potato business, but we see our role as a seed provider as doing the best possible thing for the customer at all times. We want the commercial grower to be successful at harvesting a quality crop and delivering that to Americans.”

A few years ago, after listening to concerns from existing customers about finding enough of the right varieties of seed at the right state of dormancy for growing in places like Florida, the farming operation expanded to Arizona to be able to further meet commercial potato farmers’ needs. Perhaps the most well-known and valuable of the company’s assets remains the isolated location of the original Pieper Farms on Lake of the Woods. The massive lake on the Canadian border acts as “both a giant ice cube and a giant heat retention tank,” Zaitz says. The warm winds coming across the lake extend the growing season well into October, but they also extend and brutally lower temperatures (sometimes plunging to -40 degrees Fahrenheit) that freeze the soil 20 inches deep.

“Usually this far north, you have a very short growing season,” says Zaitz. “But the extremely isolated microclimate gives us some natural biosecurity controls, which helps keep our seed clean.”

Whether you know them by the name of Pieper Farms or Plant Grow Harvest, Zaitz says, “We’re not here just to make a quick buck. We’re here to forge successful partnerships throughout the potato industry.”