In For the Long Run
Any farm that grows both potatoes and tulips can rightly be defined as “diversified.” Iverson Family Farms fits that description by growing bulbs and tubers, along with the rest of their crop portfolio that includes wheat grass seed, green beans, corn and other crops.
Actually, the farm is split into two farming operations: there’s Iverson Family Farms and then there’s the Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm.
Nels Iverson, his sister Barb and brother, Ken, oversee the farming production aspects of both operations. Barb, with Patti (Nels’ wife) and Janet, sister-in-law of Paul (another Iverson brother) oversee the business side of Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm.
The combined farms total between 1,800 and 2,000 acres. Of that acreage, potatoes are a small part of the total farming business these days. For 2012 they planted about 45 acres of the Pike variety for a chipper in California.
“My parents bought this farm in 1950,” Nels said. His father, Ross, began growing potatoes in 1962.
“I think he was looking for an alternative crop,” Nels said. “We’ve done seed potatoes, chip potatoes, some for the fresh market but we’ve concentrated on chip potatoes.”
In years past, potatoes have been a larger portion of the farm’s output, but with the over production of potatoes the Iversons have moved acres into other crops.
“Potatoes have got to be profitable in our crop mix or we have other options,” Nels said. “We like to see potatoes be a viable crop that we can make money on.”
Despite the farm’s reduction in potato production in recent years, Nels has been a vocal and involved advocate for the industry since the early 1980s.
For more then 22 years Nels has served on the Oregon Potato Commission (OPC), serving two five-year terms, from 1982 to 1992, and returning to serve since 2001 for the OPC. He is a past chairman of the state organization, currently serves in dual capacities as the OPC international trade chairman and the OPC representative to the National Potato Council (NPC).
His responsibilities as the chairman of the international trade committee have resulted in trade missions to Korea, Central America, Mexico, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Bill Brewer, OPC executive director, said that in his 7-1/2 years as executive director he has come to rely on Nels for historical background information on issues facing Oregon’s potato industry.
“His commitment is industry wide,” Brewer said.
Brewer said that the tulip farm even plays a positive role during the Potato D.C. Fly-In when the Oregon growers visit their congressional delegation.
“They all know the tulip farm and almost all have visited the farm,” Brewer said.
That wouldn’t be unusual. The Iversons began the Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm 29 years ago. Barb Iverson estimates that they have between 100,000 and 125,000 visitors, from every continent except Antarctica, every spring.
John Keeling, executive vice president and CEO of the NPC, seconds Brewer’s assessment of Iverson.
“I think he’s very dedicated to making the industry better,” Keeling said. “He is very committed to the potato industry. He’s there early, stay late, just the whole deal. It’s interesting because potatoes are an important part of his operation but they’re probably not the number one thing. He’s been a great person for our industry.”
Iverson said that he and Patti look forward to the Potato D.C. Fly-In. They’ve been attending the Fly-In for the past six years.
Not only does it give them time to meet with their congressional delegation, but they have an opportunity to hear what issues growers are facing throughout the country.
“I enjoy working with other people from other areas of the country,” Iverson said. “We all have different issues in some cases but we have a lot of similarities and things that we can work together with.”
“I find it quite a rewarding experience,” Iverson said. “I think it’s important to have a working relationship, which we have with our local congressman, Kurt Schrader. He knows the farm, he’s been there numerous times. He knows us personally, so we feel that we can call upon him when we have concerns that affect agriculture.”
Iverson described his relationship with Oregon’s congressional delegation as a “working relationship” with communication throughout the year.
“I don’t care what congressman or senator you have, there is always issues you can bring up with them and have a civil discussion,” Iverson said.
Issues that the Iversons might bring up at this year’s Fly-In include continued funding for the Specialty Crop Research Initiative, EPA regulations, immigration and unified standards without exemptions in the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
“It (FSMA) should be fair and level across the board, not special exemptions,” Iverson said.
By Bill Schaefer