It’s Not Me, It’s You

Idaho Seed Grower of the Year Conn Crapo of Skyline Farms

Published online: Dec 01, 2021 Articles, Grower of the Month
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This article appears in Potato Grower’s 2021 Idaho Annual issue. Conn Crapo is Potato Growers 2021 Idaho Seed Grower of the Year. 

“I’m hesitant to take much credit for the success of this farm,” says Conn Crapo. “A lot of people laid the foundation for me, and it takes a lot of good people to keep this thing going.”

It’s an absolutely gorgeous fall day on the banks of Canyon Creek, about nine miles east of Newdale, Idaho—just the kind of day you’d draw up if you were in charge of weather for potato harvest. A considerable number of the good people to whom Crapo deflects praise are buzzing around the immediate area: Voices crackle over the radio, plugging holes and conferring on the fly. Tractors and harvesters steadily make their way up and down the hilly fields. Loaded trucks kick up dust as they make their way to the cellar. Deft hands remove debris from conveyor belts. Crapo is there, overseeing it all, but calmly trusting the good people he’s surrounded by at Skyline Farms.

Crapo’s father, George, started growing commercial potatoes in nearby Parker in 1968. In 1980, he made a gut decision to buy 1,200 acres of dry farm ground in the high country, and Skyline Farms had its start. George loved farming, and he was good at it. He passed that passion on to his six children, but let them know that returning to the farm as adults was neither a birthright nor an obligation.

“Dad wanted us to be absolutely sure—especially as we got married and started families of our own—that this is what we wanted to do,” says Conn. “He wanted it to be our decision, not his.”

As a young couple, Conn and his wife Whitney made that decision and threw themselves wholeheartedly into farming. In 1997, Whitney’s father, Phil Stevens—a neighbor of the Crapos’ Skyline operation—approached the Crapos about the possibility of selling his seed potato operation to them.

“That was very intriguing to me,” says Conn. “The Crapos weren’t seed growers, and my dad and brothers didn’t want to be seed growers. But we’ve always been big believers in diversification, and Dad especially was very supportive of me doing seed.”

So he dove in, growing seed for many of the original Stevens customers as well as for Crapo Farms. The high, hilly country hasn’t always been easy to farm, but it has proven to be an ideal place for Crapo to grow quality seed potatoes. Over the years, Skyline Farms has steadily expanded; Crapo now grows 14 different varieties for dozens of customers across the Northwest in the process, fry and fresh markets. That old Crapo belief in the power of diversification has driven much of the growth.

“I realized very quickly that a seed grower has to understand and be involved in every aspect of the potato industry,” Crapo says. “I have to be in all realms because of, for example, the volatility of the fresh market. That market can be really tough some years, but in other years, that market treats us really well.”

Beyond that belief in business diversification, though, people and relationships are what Crapo considers to be far and away the most important aspect of his business. Much of Skyline’s growth has come via neighboring seed growers retiring and offering to sell their outfits to Crapo—a trust he doesn’t take lightly. A premium on relationships extends to employees and customers.

“I’ve been blessed to have very loyal customers,” Crapo says. “This is my twenty-third seed crop, and many of them have been with me for all 23 years. Even in years when I’ve had frost or some other issue, they’ve always worked through it with me. When there’s a problem, you hope your customers will stick with you, and they have. That’s made all the difference.

“My family and our employees, of course, are just as important,” Crapo continues. “My wife is driving truck for harvest right now. Our kids are here; we’re all a part of it. We have some of the best people working for us; some of them have been with us since before we started growing seed. It’s not about me—I give credit to all those people who have made this possible.”