Farming is about family for Ritchey Toevs.
He and his wife, Joanne, have been farming near Aberdeen, Idaho, since the late 1970s. His family has raised potatoes since 1946, and Ritchey is the second generation on the farm.
In the meantime, the family’s third generation is also involved.
“We have three daughters and a son. Our son, William, is farming with us; he graduated last year from Cal Poly. He’s currently doing a little bit of everything in running the farm, and hopefully will become a partner. It’s great to have family helping,” said Toevs.
The 3,000-acre farm grows 1,000 acres of potatoes at Aberdeen for processing and freezing and 100 acres of potatoes in a partnership operation near Chesterfield for seed, which is used by the partners’ operations.
Rotation crops include wheat, barley, mustard and sugar beets.
Toevs has experimented with several varieties of mustard. He hopes to cut back on the fumigation needed to control nematodes by raising oriental mustard and a promising new potato variety called Clearwater Russet.
Toevs is one of 17 Idaho growers raising oriental mustard for Mountain States Oilseeds, based in American Falls. The plant ingredients that make mustard spicy, glucosinolate and isothiocyanate, are a natural fumigant, controlling harmful nematodes in soil that cause root lesions on potatoes and other crops.
Toevs also found he doesn’t need to fumigate fields before planting the new Clearwater Russets, which have moderate resistance to verticillium wilt. This plant disease is caused by several species of verticillium fungi, spread by the root-lesion nematode. If the nematodes can be controlled by fumigation, or naturally by chemicals in mustard, the next crops might be healthier.
However, he said potato yields from fields following mustard were a disappointment last year.
“There may be too much residual fumigant activity of oriental mustard to follow it with potatoes the next year. A spring small grain crop may be the best crop following mustard and perhaps potatoes the year after,” he said.
Clearwater Russets are one of the varieties on McDonalds’ list of approved potatoes for fries — the first modern potato variety accepted by the fast food company.
This variety was developed through cooperative effort of USDA and three land grant universities — Oregon State, Idaho and Washington State University.
“Clearwater has consistently higher solids and lower fry color than other varieties grown for processing. It also has good resistance to early die caused by verticillium dahliae,” he said. “This soil fungus is transmitted by nematodes, so controlling nematode is important in varieties susceptible to early die.”
Toevs has raised Clearwater Russets for three years. He experimented with them before that, when they were not yet named.
In addition to reducing need for fumigation, Clearwater Russets reduce fertilizer costs because they take in fertilizer so efficiently.
Last November, Toevs was named Grower of the Year at the annual Idaho Potato Harvest Meeting sponsored by the state Potato Commission. The award honored his leadership and involvement in the industry. He recently completed 6 years as a member of the commission.
“It’s important that we all be involved as much as possible and have a voice in ag industries,” he said. Growers need a good image for the consumer.
“Best practices for potatoes continue to evolve in our effort for increased yields and higher quality with less inputs. We are fortunate to be surrounded by researchers, manufacturers, input suppliers and customers committed to the same,” Toevs said. “Economy of scale in potatoes is only partly number of acres; management is a much more important part of success.”
But there’s more to the industry than growing the crop, he said.
“A strong, unified grower voice to speak for our industry is critical. We must write our own story. We have a duty to foster leadership and promote good science. We must interact with regulators, and lead discussions concerning our future rather than just react,” he said.