50 for 50: Clen & Emma Atchley

Published online: Nov 16, 2021 50 for 50, Articles, Grower of the Month
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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. To view the full roster of “50 for 50” honorees, click here
This article appears in the November 2021 issue of Potato Grower

Atchley is one of the most respected names among seed potato growers in the country. Clen Atchley’s grandfather homesteaded near what is now Ashton, Idhao, in 1901, when all that grew there were aspens and sagebrush. In the 40-plus years since Clen and his wife Emma came back to the family farm, he estimates that the acreage they farm has increased tenfold. These days, depending on the year, the Atchleys grow between 750 and 850 acres of seed potatoes, though they have in the past produced as much as 1,200.

When asked what has been the driving force behind such successful expansion over the years, Clen deadpans, “Stupidity.”

“No,” cuts in Clen and Emma’s daughter, Laura, who today manages most of the farm’s day-to-day operations. “What’s made it work is that Dad’s an amazing businessman.”

“When we first came back to the farm,” says Emma, “Clen actually had a business plan with goals. He wanted to accomplish certain things by a certain age, and he exceeded those expectations wildly. Right now, it’s right about at the point where it’s most efficient.”

One of those innovations in efficiency is in the Atchleys’ on-farm early-generation potato greenhouse, which is has been operated primarily by Emma since 1990. Though operating the greenhouse along with the rest of the farm is no easy task, the Atchleys firmly believe it is their best option for producing the cleanest, highest-quality seed possible.

“Everything that comes out of that greenhouse is the basis for our seed operation,” says Clen.

“It is time-consuming and labor-intensive,” says Emma. “It’s hard work, and it’s complicated. We grow four generations, so for each variety, we have four different lots. If we have five different varieties, that’s 20 lots to keep track of in the cellars.”

That dedication to maintaining their entire farm as a home for clean seed continues to serve the Atchleys well. Potatoes are grown on a five- to eight-year rotation to keep the land as clean and healthy as possible.

“We decided a long time ago to try to be the most efficient operation around,” says Clen. “And you can’t maintain that kind of efficiency long-term without a commitment to quality.”

The Atchleys are not attention seekers; they eschew the limelight whenever they can. But attention has a way finding people who are superb at their jobs. And there aren’t many people as good at anything as the Atchleys are at producing high-end seed potatoes.