50 for 50: Heartland Farms

Published online: Dec 24, 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 December 2021 issue of Potato Grower

Expanding a business—especially a farm business—is a tricky proposition. Doing it once is quite a feat. Succeeding at expansion over the course of years, even decades, takes a special breed. It takes the guts to pull the trigger on tough decisions, the prudence to back off when necessary, the curiosity to innovate, and the wherewithal to anticipate where the industry as a whole is headed.

The Pavelski and Knights families of Wisconsin have proud histories full of just such people. August Pavelski emigrated from Poland in 1873 and began farming an 80-acre homestead near Amherst Junction, Wis. The same pioneering spirit that drove August to cross an ocean and parts of two continents create a new home and life for his family still flows through Pavelski veins. Four and five generations on, August’s descendants now own and operate Heartland Farms, which has become one of the largest and most innovative potato and vegetable operation in the U.S.

The Pavelskis have always been keen on expanding their operation. As such, Dave Knights—whose family has been farming in the Midwest since the 1860s—was brought on as a partner in 1990, and the company’s name was officially changed from A.M. Pavelski & Sons to Heartland Farms.

Today, Heartland Farms encompasses some 24,000 irrigated acres spread across four Wisconsin counties. Potatoes are the heart and soul of the operation, with about 8,500 acres of Heartland land dedicated to the crop annually. Though the farm is of a size that makes it difficult to ignore, all of the company’s farm acreage is within 100 miles of it headquarters.

“We try to stick to our core competency, and that’s potatoes,” says Jeremie Pavelski. “We rent out most of the rest of our land for rotational crops.”

Heartland employees are encouraged to seek out the newest and most innovative products and practices. In 2016, Heartland Farms completed construction on a 30,000-square-foot facility dubbed the farm operations, technology and training center. The facility houses Heartland’s teams and provides a home for collaboration and technology training, further enabling the farm to remain on the leading edge of agricultural technology.

“It’s taken us a long time to get to where we are,” says Jeremie. “We’re very fortunate to have very productive ground here, and we don’t take that lightly.”

A young Richard Pavelski—current CEO of Heartland Farms—and his parents work harvest on the original farm in Amherst Junction, Wis.