Interview with the Thompsons
This year we are trying something new. Each month we are going to feature an interview with one of our member farms or markets. Sharing wisdom, life experiences and stories is just one way in which we can all grow together as a community. Enjoy the interview below!
What changes have you observed in potato farming practices over the years? How have advancements in technology impacted the way you operate your farm?
The biggest change is not in potato farming practices but is that the expectations of quality and pricing considerations have changed drastically over the last 30 years.
In 1990 our crop was sold in a regional market place where price and quality were set by regional standards. So for example, if Ontario had a dry season while PEI had a normal precipitation season, the prices would be different in each province. In 2024 we have moved to a global marketplace where prices and quality standards are set by worldwide inventory. This means our crop is priced based on an international standard instead of including local crop factors for individual farmers.
In the mid-twentieth century, we used to sell our product by loading a small truck and driving from door to door “peddling” the potatoes to anyone who would buy them. This has changed dramatically where we now have a large customer basis who all get weekly deliveries with a consistent produce and service for their peace of mind.
Can you share some insights into the challenges you've faced as a potato farmer and how you've adapted to overcome them, especially considering how the landscape of agriculture is changing?
Two of the biggest challenges we face are reliance on the weather and ever-increasing government paperwork requirements.
One of my blogs is actually called “Farmers Are Professional Gamblers.” Every year we plant the crop and roll the dice. We never know if we will see drought, flooding, extreme heat, cool weather or just an “average” season. To combat the weather we spend money to be prepared for every eventuality as best we can. After several extremely dry years in the 1990’s, we dug an irrigation pond and bought all the expensive equipment we needed to combat drought at our home farm. After severe flooding and cold weather a few year ago proved to be detrimental to our crop, we now invest in annual crop insurance.
We are now required to maintain an incredible about of paperwork for the government relating to every aspect of our farm including labour, farm records, inventory, traceability, food safety, well readings, and the list goes on. In the last two years we have been audited by all levels of the government including a labour audit, payroll audit, housing audit, pesticide audit for a total of approximately 8 very time consuming audit. .I now have a full time assistant who helps me in the office to maintain all of our records.
Potatoes are a versatile and resilient crop. What are some key factors that contribute to a successful potato harvest, and any tips you've learned over the years for maintaining quality and yield?
Plant early and get ahead of any viruses. Maintain good soil health avoiding monoculture. Maintain 2” precipitation per month. Choose varieties that suit your growing conditions. And be patient, potatoes take a long time to grow!
So much knowledge and wisdom! If you'd like to learn more about the Thompsons and their farm, you can visit their website at https://www.thompsonpotatofarm.com/
(oh, and a little extra note here: they have GREAT potato recipes on their website as well, so click around to see if you can find them!)