Harvest Time at Troyer Farms: Fall 2006

Sep 11, 2006 | Posted in What's New

Harvest Time at Troyer Farms: Fall 2006
A Visit with Mark Troyer

There’s a buzz in the air here at Troyer Farms these days. Partly because the summer is fading and autumn is here, but mostly because the fall potato harvest is under way. It’s high season. The heavy farming equipment has come out, the workers are anxious to see what kind of reward will come from months of planting, cultivating, and tending this years’ crop of potatoes. For several weeks now the harvester and trucks have been hauling freshly dug loads of potatoes to the chip plant for production. The smell of upturned dirt and the busy sounds of the workers serve as a reminder that this is what Troyer Farms was built on…potato farming.

Potatoes are a tuber, which means the potato is a root vegetable that grows under ground. The seed of a potato is simply a piece of cut potato that is then planted in the dirt. Each piece grows a new plant with several new potatoes. The potatoes that are planted for Troyer Farms Potato Chips are “chipping potatoes” which have higher gravity or solid content and sucrose levels than table stock varieties (i.e. Idahos or reds). This keeps them from turning brown when fried, and instead gives them a nice golden color.

No one is more interested in the details of the yield and potato quality than Mark Troyer, part owner and farm manager at Troyer Farms. He oversees the entire 2000 acre farming operation. Nearly 750 acres of potatoes were planted this year and the rest were planted in rotation crops such as, corn, rye and wheat. Since childhood, Mark has perfected the science of how to grow a great crop of potatoes. When asked about what kinds of potatoes make good chips, he hollers over the loud grading line and rattles off a long list of names. “Atlantics are just about done…we harvest them first and don’t store them.” “These are Marcys…but we have Rebas, Pikes and Dakota Pearls. Mostly Marcys though.” Ducking beneath some falling dust from the end of a conveyer line carrying dirt to a truck waiting nearby, we walk back and look into the long storage bin to see where the snaking conveyer belts are carrying the heavy load. “Bin” does not quite describe the grand scale of the space that stores these potatoes for use during the colder winter months when the price of potatoes typically goes up. “14’ wide x 14’ high x 100’ long each bin holds about 80,000 lbs. of potatoes.” “We store about 200,000 bushels.” Mark says matter of factly. Still a family business, Mark’s son Zachary, 13, works alongside doing whatever dirty job is needed next.

“This year was a great growing season. We’ve exceeded expectations really. We didn’t need to irrigate this year; but it didn’t get too wet either. Our yield is high.” This is good news to be sure. Potatoes are known for their high maintenance. No “plant ‘em and leave ‘em method for these little guys. Complications can come in many packages. Potatoes are highly susceptible to many kinds of diseases, bugs, drought and too-wet conditions. There are innumerable potential problems that can foil a farmer’s best laid plans. An acre of potatoes takes a considerable amount of work in comparison to some more easily grown crops (i.e. corn, rye, wheat). And once they are out of the ground, graded and stored, the work is not over. The time between storage and production can also be a lot of work. “Sometimes they don’t store well and can start a bad spot that needs to be removed from the storage”, says Mark. Keeping the potatoes at the ideal temperature and properly ventilated can be tricky during the famous Lake Erie “Snow Belt” winters. When asked how he handles such a big job, Mark shrugs it off saying, “It’s hard work, but it’s what I’ve done my whole life, it’s what I do best and what I enjoy doing the most.”

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