ViewpointsGrower SpotlightPassing on a Passion for Potatoes

Passing on a Passion for Potatoes

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[deck]Southern Manitoba Potato in Winkler, Man., features multiple generations of fathers and sons working side by side.[/deck]

Co-founded in 1960 by family patriarch John Kuhl on land owned by his father, Southern Manitoba Potato today encompasses 6,500 acres of potato, wheat, canola, soybean and corn. While John can still be found walking the fields and helping with major decisions, the day-to-day operations of the family farm are now handled by John’s son Keith and grandsons Marlon and Jeremy.

According to Keith, this family-focused mindset has allowed the company, and the Kuhls, to prosper. “I spent most of my life working with my father, and during that time our relationship changed from father-son, to partners and finally to best friends,” says Keith. “Working with my sons has been a pleasure—I am so proud of their abilities and talents.”

However, he says the multigenerational operation requires a special type of management to foster innovation and growth. “During the time [my sons] have been taking over active management of the farm, I have purposely involved myself in other activities, such as the Canadian Potato Council, Peak of the Market and other off-farm activities,” says Keith. “Fathers have a tendency to want to micro-manage, but my being busy in other activities has allowed the boys freedom to develop their own management style.”

Like their father Keith, and grandfather John, Marlon and Jeremy grew up with a passion for agriculture. After each of them graduated with agriculture degrees from the University of Manitoba, Marlon now looks after the fresh and processing side of the business, while Jeremy manages seed production and sales.
“Farming offers a career unlike any other,” says Marlon. “No two days, months or years are ever the same, and I enjoy change. As a kid I spent as much time as I could on the farm and I always knew I wanted to join the farming business when I grew up.”

Southern Manitoba Potato employs the most advanced technology, from storage to bagging.
Southern Manitoba Potato employs the most advanced technology, from storage to bagging.

Southern Manitoba Potato employs the most advanced technology, from storage to bagging.

However, passion for farming wasn’t the only thing passed down from John and Keith. Today, the sons know what it takes to remain successful in today’s challenging potato industry. “Marlon and Jeremy are leaders in agricultural management,” says Keith. “They work to establish and maintain good relationships with our clients.”

And they also bring a fresh outlook to an evolving industry. “I think the perspective Marlon and myself bring is consistent improvement,” says Jeremy. “We try to look at each area of the business and determine where changes can be made to deliver a better product, and where change will be most effective.”

Keith, Marlon and Jeremy all agree that the key to the company’s success is simple: quality, quality, quality. “Our goal is to consistently ship high-quality product. We realize that most customers are looking for consistent quality,” says Keith. “We grow about 20 varieties of potatoes. Each variety is different, and growers must take the time to get to know the variety in order to be successful. Quality is always an issue—growing high-quality potatoes starts with having high-quality seed.”

Southern Manitoba Potato also employs the most advanced technology. “The technology today amazes me. When I look back over my life and see where we are today compared to where we were back in the 1960s when I started working on the farm, the changes are unbelievable,” says Keith.

At the company’s foundation is a passion for agriculture that has carried on through the generations. And this is a passion that Marlon hopes to pass on to the next generation. “I hope my children will have an interest and as they are growing up they will help with tasks on the farm. I want to continue to build the business to stay viable for future generations.”

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