Both winners of this year’s Idaho potato industry Grower of the Year awards quickly credit others for any success they’ve had.
Potato Growers of Idaho selected Fred Brossy, whose family owns Ernie’s Organics near Shoshone, as Potato Grower of the Year. The seed-focused Idaho Crop Improvement Association selected Mike Telford, principal in the multi-location Telford Sun Valley & Lost River Seed, as Potato Seed Grower of the Year. The awards are part of the Idaho Potato Commission’s annual Big Idaho Potato Harvest Meeting, this year held Nov. 14 in Fort Hall.
“There are other people more deserving, but I am also pleased that PGI chose to acknowledge organic potato production in their award choice,” Brossy said. Although PGI and others recognize him as a pioneer in growing organic potatoes in Idaho, “a couple guys helped me get started, and we continue to work together.”
Telford is known for his service on industry and community advisory boards, and for his work with his family’s widespread business in which his five sons play key roles.
“It certainly wouldn’t be possible without our employees, my wonderful family and our customers,” he said.
Fred and Judy Brossy, and their son, Cooper, own Ernie’s Organics. Fred and Judy managed the business from 1983 until acquiring it in 2005. The farm went all-organic in 1996. All crops are sold to contracted or other predetermined buyers. Most of the potatoes go to Amy’s Kitchen.
“Those relationships are why we are successful,” Fred Brossy said. “We wouldn’t be able to do it without them.”
PGI Executive Director Keith Esplin said Brossy is a pioneer Idaho organic-potato grower who developed whole-farm systems and precise, purpose-driven rotations. “It was a whole new attitude,” Esplin said.
Brossy said he keeps learning. He has worked cooperatively with organic potato pioneers Nate Jones of Hammett and Mike Heath of Buhl since the Idaho organic potato industry was getting its start in the early 1990s.
“It stays interesting and exciting, because every day is a new day and you never know what you’re going to learn today,” Brossy said. A current project at Ernie’s involves using no-till farming more than ever.
Organic farming “is really based on healthy soil more than anything,” he said. “It has taken us a lot of years to get our productivity to where it is now.”
Telford is a first-generation farmer who started in 1972. The diversified farm of around 10,000 combined acres has sites as far as 90 miles apart, stretching from Paul and Richfield in south-central Idaho to Arco to the north. Certified seed potatoes are the main crop; they go to small- and large-scale growers across southern Idaho and into parts of Oregon and Washington.
“We appreciate and rely on our great customers, and the confidence they have in us to grow seed for them,” Telford said.
Employees, many of whom have been with the Telford family for 20 years or longer, have been instrumental to success, he said.
“Mike is a longstanding seed grower and highly respected in the industry,” said Alan Westra, Idaho Crop Improvement Association area manager for the state’s southeast region. “To say he works tirelessly for the industry is an understatement.”
Telford is seed division chairman for United Potato Growers of America, chairman of the United Seed Growers of Idaho board, and a member of the Idaho Crop Improvement Association potato advisory committee. He has served as a county commissioner and as a member of working groups that deal with water issues.
“To be recognized by peers you work with and compete with, it is just a tremendous honor,” he said.