Streich Farms thrives as nearby population balloons
Even the smoothest harvest has some bumps. The 2018 harvest went fairly smoothly on Streich Farms, located west of the fast-growing town of Kalispell, Montana. However, there was one complication, albeit a happy one, that the Streichs dealt with in 2017 that there was zero chance of them having to deal with again during this most recent harvest.
That was the birth of Paul Striech’s twin boys.
“My wife and I were expecting twins and we actually thought they wouldn’t arrive till after harvest, but sure enough on the second day we woke up and had to go to the hospital and they were born that day,” Paul said. A year later, Wes and Jack are doing great.
The Streichs have made a habit of being able to deal with whatever is thrown their way, and that’s a good thing considering where they are located. Streich and Associates is on the edge of the Flathead National Forest and on the way to the gates of Glacier National Park.
Just over 3.3 million people visited the park in 2017 according to the National Park Service and, increasingly, some of those visitors like the place so much they decide to stay. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Kalispell was the third fastest growing area in the country among urban areas of its size. Between 2016 and 2017, the latest year that the government has numbers for, another 2,307 people called Kalispell home.
Back to the beginning
Orrin Streich and his wife, Naomi, moved to the Flathead Valley in 1975 to retire after selling their North Dakota farm, on which they had raised seed potatoes since the mid-1940s. Orrin began his farming career shortly after serving as a flight instructor during World War II. However, he discovered that quitting farming was harder than he thought, so Streich and Associates was born.
When Steve Streich’s father bought their original farm in the area, he chose a place west of Kalispell. The census number for 1970 put the population at 10,526. Since then, the town has expanded, gobbling up more and more surrounding farmland. In 1993, Steve and Jill bought the farm from Orrin and kept the family’s farm legacy going strong.
Around 10 years ago, development caused the Streichs to move their operation west of Kalispell near Creston, Montana. By then, Kalispell had boomed to just under 38,000 people.
The Streichs recently completed a new state-of-the-art storage facility and headquarters on their new ground. However, until they did, they had to navigate around many of those newcomers every time they worked their fields, since their storages and machines sheds were still next to their old fields.
This includes a computer managed environmental controller which allows for precision when bringing potatoes down to storage temperature. Also, with features like a vented concrete floor in portions of the storage, the new facility is a big upgrade. In addition to being more modern and dependable than the aging facilities east of Kalispell, Steve Streich said the controller has especially been nice.
“It’s great — you can set it to bring the temperature down to what you want it to be, and if there is a problem, it will text your cellphone,” he said.
Paul and Steve have to contend with the same pressures that all seed growers face. For example, soilborne diseases like PVY are never farm from their minds. However, their location presents them with additional challenges, which is part of the reason why they are the only seed growers left in the area.
For example, it’s especially hard to find help near a resort town. Whitefish, Montana, sits 18 miles north of Kalispell and has more of a mountain bike, ski town feel to it than its southern neighbor.
Drive through Whitefish and among the Patagonia-wearing tourists you’ll see a heavy crop of “help wanted” signs. Steve Streich said it’s more and more challenging to recruit workers when the restaurants and coffee shops of Whitefish have raised their wages to attract workers.
The next generation
Challenges are meant to be overcome and through hard work and ingenuity the Streichs have done just that. In fact, they’re not just hanging in spite of these pressures, but they are actively thriving. For the past six years, the next generation of Streichs have begun working on the operation full-time.
“I feel like we’re pretty fortunate to be able to make it work. I feel pretty lucky to be able to work with him every day,” Paul said. “A lot of my friends don’t see their dad too often because either they’re doing a totally different thing or don’t even live in the same town.”
After attending college but working on the farm for the summers, Paul decided that the being on the farm with his father was the place for him.
Having a solid partner in Paul has allowed Steve to promote the seed potato industry across the world. He was part of a Potatoes USA delegation to Myanmar and Morocco. The partnership helps Steve give back to the industry and has also secured their operation’s continuing success.
“Paul and I have a great time farming together,” Steve said. “It was something I was very anxious about in the beginning because our farm wasn’t very big so I was anxious if we could bring on another partner, feed another family. It’s worked out well and I think it’s another thing that’s helped ensure the future of our farm, probably the most important thing.”