‘All Spuds’: Alsum Farms has quadrupled potato production the past 30 years
Alsum Farms & Produce has been referred to “All Spuds” because of the size of its potato production. It is true, when it comes to farming, the operation is all about growing potatoes, but the company’s diversified packing and shipping division, with its 27 trucks and 80 refrigerator trailers, moves more than 300 types of fresh produce all over the Midwest and Eastern United States.
Homebase for Alsum Farms & Produce is Friesland in the heart of Wisconsin farming country. It was started in 1973 by Glen Alsum, who died tragically in a plane crash in 1981. At that point, Glen’s widow, Linda, approached Glen’s cousin, Larry Alsum, about coming on to keep the business going. It hasn’t just kept going but grown exponentially.
In 1984, a transport business was started. Five years later, Alsum began growing potatoes on 745 acres. Today, potato acreage totals 2,700, with land in Arena and Grand Marsh, Wisconsin. Production includes approximately 30 varieties, primarily three russets, one red and two yellows, with the remaining varieties sprinkled in to meet niche markets.
MORE PHOTOS: Alsum Farms & Produce
The company has 200 full-time employees, more than 345,000 square feet of production and warehouse space and the capability to store up to 1.2 million hundredweight of potatoes.
For the past three decades, Larry Alsum has become a central figure in the potato industry. That includes holding various roles for the National Potato Council, which culminated with him serving as NPC president from January 2019 to January 2020.
How does the business breakdown?
Larry Alsum: (It) is primarily involved in the fresh-pack business. Ideally, 90% of our potatoes are sold to the fresh market, primarily retailers and foodservice partners. The remaining 10% is sold for processing to either canners or dehydrators. (We) grow, pack and ship russet, red, gold, white and specialty potatoes, providing a year-round supply. That includes 2,700 acres of potatoes in Arena and Grand Marsh, Wisconsin. Additionally, we have a trusted grower network throughout the United States that we pack and market potatoes for. Beyond potatoes, Alsum packs onions, sweet potatoes and is a Great Lakes region year-round distributor of over 300 kinds of fresh fruits and vegetables, many of which are locally grown in season.
What have been the biggest changes since you started farming?
The technology improvements. The technology we utilize on our farm for equipment includes GPS controls in our tractors, computerized control systems for seed and fertilizer placement along with many other areas. Technology has allowed us to improve efficiency and accuracy of our farm operations. New seed varieties have allowed us to fit into market windows and meet unique size requirements. A combination of all factors has allowed farmers to increase yields and quality to meet customer demands using fewer resources.
You’re part of the Healthy Grown program. Why is that important?
When the Healthy Grown program started in 1996, we had only been farming for five years on our own (although we had been packing potatoes for 23.) I was eager to learn about the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) concepts and the collaboration with UW-Extension. I feel that there is always room for improvement in everything we do and the HG program provided many new and progressive ideas about farming and the environment. The concept of collaborating with environmental groups, such as the World Wildlife Fund and International Crane Foundation, also gave us as potato growers a different perspective on the environment and how to proactively be involved in protecting and improving the world we live in. As farmers, we understand that the land we farm is the source of life, food, jobs and it is our responsibility and opportunity to preserve and care for the land and environment.
What keeps you up at night?
Thankfully, I don’t lose much sleep. I have been blessed with a strong faith, family and employees. My faith is my foundation of who I am and what I believe. I know that there is a God who is in control of all things and my role is to serve Him and be His ambassador and steward however I can. I work hard to maintain that balance in life, but knowing that there is a higher purpose to my life helps me deal with the challenges and adversity that comes with farming and life.
What are you most proud of?
The family and staff that work at Alsum — all three entities have great people and we work hard to have a culture that takes care of our staff, our customers, our grower network and the communities that we live and work in.
How does it make you feel to have your daughters (Heidi Alsum-Randall and Wendy Alsum-Dykstra) follow in your footsteps?
Very thankful, proud and blessed. My daughters have both taken on expanded roles at our Alsum Companies and have earned the respect of our management team and employees. I see a bright future for American agriculture and I feel that our management team will do a great job of running and building our business.
Outgoing NPC president talks shop
Larry Alsum recently finished up his term as president of the National Potato Council, which included the retirement of longtime CEO John Keeling. Alsum takes stock on the industry and his year leading the NPC.
What were your goals when assuming the role of president?
My No. 1 goal was a successful transition to a new leadership team. John Keeling has done a great job of leading NPC for the past 18 years; his reputation and relationships were critical for the successes of NPC. We have a strong executive committee and we knew we had an important job and we are very thankful that the transition has gone well. We are thankful for the promotion of Kam Quarles and hiring of Mike Wenkel to lead NPC along with our very capable staff of Hollee (Alexander) and Hillary (Hutchins). Beyond that, my goals were to maintain the momentum of NPC to be a leader in Washington, D.C. We continue to work on trade, regulatory, immigration and any issues that come up at the national level.
What are the biggest challenges facing the potato industry heading into 2020?
The biggest challenges that I see in 2020 are to maintain our momentum in D.C. during times of political uncertainty. I don’t think that any of us know for certain what to expect. It is disappointing that our political system is so polarized and dysfunctional. It is critical for NPC to be able to work at all levels and with all parties in D.C. in order to represent our industry well.
How was the experience?
(The NPC staff has) made my year as NPC both enjoyable and productive. Having been involved in the potato industry for most of my adult life and being able to serve at the national level for both the Potato Board and NPC has been a privilege and honor. I have met so many great people and established so many great relationships around the country.