A Potato Farmer with No Land

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Michiel Buijsse isn’t your typical potato grower, as he doesn’t own any of the land he farms on.

When McCain Foods approached Michiel Buijsse about growing potatoes there was just one problem — he didn’t own any land, or anything else to actually grow potatoes.

McCain was looking to expand production and needed new growers. Buijsse had immigrated to Alberta from Holland and was working as a manager on a potato farm. He had the farming skills and passion, but no land. However, a grain farm near McCain Foods’ Coaldale plant was looking for a new business opportunity.

Bezco Farming Inc. is a 5,000-acre grain farm owned by the Bezooyen family. They farm canola, wheat, barley, winter wheat and alfalfa, while also running a concrete construction business. The Bezooyen’s were looking for a new profitable crop to grow on their land when they were asked if they’d be willing to partner with Buijsse.

“It’s like this massive job interview, right? You’re kind of going to go in a partnership with somebody you don’t even know yet. So, you have to get to know him,” Bill Bezooyen says in a phone interview.

The “job interview” worked and 845 Spud Farms Ltd. was born. 845 Spud Farms is a 50/50 partnership between Bill and Buijsse. 845 Spud Farms owns all of the potato equipment and the potato storage, the storage was built on Bezco land, and 845 Spud Farms rents the land. Buijsse’s wife Tabitha does bookwork with Bill’s wife Brenda, and Bill’s sons Dexter, Luke and Zoltan help Buijsse with the farm work.

Starting Out on the “New Farm”

The first potato crop for 845 Spud Farms was planted in 2019. Buijsse had already grown two years of his own potato crops on leased land under the farm name MTB Farms Ltd. He rented and borrowed potato equipment and storages from other farms to run the operation.

“We put every single cent that we had onto potatoes… if we made five bucks, then we borrowed another five, and we’d spend 10 bucks on equipment, then on storages and everything,” Buijsse explains in a phone interview.

The first few years were rough. The ground they were planting had been zero till and hadn’t been ripped for years, meaning there was quite a few rocks in the fields. There was also frost to contend with, meaning not all of the spuds were able to be dug up before spoiling.

The start of planting was delayed this year when everyone was infected with COVID-19, forcing at home isolation, while neighbours started planting. Once they got up and running again on April 29, they were able to push through and finish planting 300 acres of potatoes by May 5, as the seed cut before they were sick.

Moving forward Buijsse hopes to expand the farm to 750 acres of potatoes. Currently 845 Spud Farms grows processing potatoes for both McCain and Cavendish Farms.

“Both of these plants are ready to expand and have the capacity and the means to do that. But right now, they do not have the sales. So, I think whenever these plants ramp up, we’re going to have room to expand,” Buijsse explains. Adding they have been working to keep good relations with the processing plants by being flexible with shipping amounts and shipping on short notice.

Buijsse has planned the farm out with expansion in mind. He has bought an eight-row planter, which is slightly too large for current production but will allow for more acres to be grown when the plants increase production. He’s also purchased a self-propelled harvester that works better for digging in clay soils, which 845 Spud Farms is located in.

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