Aroostook County family has farmed the same acreage since 1953
The Maine Potato Board named the Moir family of Woodland, Maine, the Farm Family of the Year for 2006. Ronald and Ruth Moir farm about 1,500 acres in Aroostook County with their three sons Alan, Jason and Scott. They grow potatoes and grain and sudangrass as a rotation and cover crop.
Three pickup trucks parked in the farmhouse’s driveway sport licenses that read: IFARM 4U, POTATOES and SPUDS. The modern ranch-style house overlooks a 9.5-acre pond that was built as part of the farm’s irrigation system. It does have a diving board, canoes, kayaks and paddleboats, and Ron hopes and prays” it’ll have more recreational than irrigation use.
“It’s a cost deal,” he said. “But we feel it’s a good insurance policy.”
Moir started farming on the home farm in 1967. His grandfather, John, started the farm in 1928. Ron’s father, Donald, farmed the same acreage until 1953, when he gave it up to work at Loring Air Force Base. When Ron and Ruth purchased the farm and began to grow potatoes, they were helped out by Ruth’s father, Arnold Williams, and Ron’s dad. The Williams family has farmed for four generations, while the Moirs have farmed for three.
It was in 1968 that Ron and Ruth were married. They lived in an apartment in nearby Caribou, Maine, and in the winters Ron “worked out” while Ruth worked for an attorney.
“You couldn’t make a living farming then,” Ron said.
When their new home was built on the farm, they moved in.
Ron and Ruth have four children. Alan and his wife, Stacy, began working on the farm in 1991; Jason and his wife, Kristie, began farming in 1994; Scott and his wife, Neali, joined the farm in 1995. Each couple has two children and lives within the neighborhood. A daughter, Lisa Collins, lives in Caribou and works for the school department. All four children worked on the family farm as they were growing up, and now the grandchildren are doing their bit.
Over the past several years, the Moirs have purchased a number of farms within a radius of 8 miles, with one farm having a field of 130 acres. That’s a large field by Maine potato standards.
“Everybody does everything on the farm,” Ron said.
Scott does most of the spraying, with some help from Alan. Alan also is a handyman in the maintenance shop, doing equipment repairs and manufacturing parts.
“We try to do 99 percent of our repairs,” Ron said. “We couldn’t stay in business if we had to take everything in town for repair work.”
Unlike many farmers in Aroostook County, the Moirs have no problem getting harvest help.
“We are using retired people, some in their late 70s,” he said. “They all drive trucks and they come to work earlier than the regular crew. We start work at 6:30 a.m., and most of them are here at 6 a.m., just sitting in their trucks waiting. It’s a real asset. When you hire young people today, they may be five or 10 minutes late. And if the trucks are late, then everyone is late.”
The Moirs use sudangrass as a rotation crop. They used to raise grain as a rotation crop, but “by the time you plant a grain crop, fertilize it, spray it and combine it, and for the price you can get for it, it is almost a breakeven deal. With sudangrass, you just basically plant it and leave it alone.”
The Moirs have about 250 acres of sudangrass. Chuckling, Moir relates how his sons nearly got lost in a field of 5-foot-tall sudangrass looking for the irrigation pivot flag. Using their cell phones, they talked themselves free of the tall grass.
The family raises Russet and Shepody potatoes for processing and round whites and Ranger Russets for tablestock. About 65 percent of their crop is sold under contract to processors, with 35 percent going on the open market for distribution along the Eastern seaboard. The family sells enough potatoes under contract to protect themselves from the uncertainties of the market.
“If you can keep your head above water during the hard times,” Ron said, “the good times pay off.”
While the men are busy working the fields, Ruth is busy working the books.
“She does all the book work,” Ron said. “She is more important than anyone else.”
Ron said he is not looking forward to retiring.
“I don’t think I could retire and be happy,” he said. “I don’t do much and I suppose someday I will have to retire.”
When he does retire, his sons will take over and several of his grandchildren also are interested in farming.
Alan Moir said his family is always looking to try something new. They tried growing mustard, but that didn’t pan out.
“A lot of things can be raised here,” he said. “It is no different than any place else. If you have a market for it, whatever it is, and there is a supply and demand, it could sell.”