Tupling Farms: A Legacy in the Making
BERT TUPLING AND his wife, Pat, have spent a lifetime fulfilling a vision that started in 1944 when Bert’s parents, Mel and Irene, were growing four acres of potatoes near Shelburne, Ont.,—about 130 kilometres north of Toronto—and storing those potatoes in the basement of their home.
That vision has led Bert, Pat and their sons, Andrew and Aaron, to build Tupling Farms Ltd. into a family-owned potato business that now grows 12 different varieties on 1,250 acres, as well as storing up to 35 million pounds of potatoes to meet market demand.
The farm, just as the family, has grown together, says Bert Tupling. Decisions have always been made as a family and hard work has never been lacking. “I have always said that if you put your mind to something, even if you have to work hard and put in some long hours as we have, you’ll end up with something to be proud of,” he says.
Over the last 20 years, Tupling Farms has expanded in all directions, adding five cement sandwich wall storages since 1995 and bagging equipment that accommodates 5-, 10-, and 20-pound bags mainly for the fresh potato industry. The Tuplings now own 2,450 acres and rent another 1,400 acres, which allows them to operate a two- to three-year potato rotation, using wheat, barley, corn and hay as rotational crops, some of which are used as feed for the cattle finishing side of their operation. Tupling Farms employs up to 27 people depending on the season.
Land stewardship is another big part of the Tupling philosophy. “We appreciate the fact that we have been able to use the land to make a living,” says Tupling. “So we try to give something back.” They use crop rotation and cover crops to help build organic matter in the soil, improve soil structure, and reduce wind and water erosion. By employing these methods, they feel they have been able to keep chemical and fertilizer use to a minimum.
And with traceability and food safety issues becoming increasingly important in the vegetable industry, Tupling Farms is ahead of the curve in terms of its integrated systems for record keeping and biosecurity measures. “If my father were here today he would be astonished that all of our access doors have codes to let you in,” says Tupling. “He would find it hard to believe the next door neighbour couldn’t just open the door and walk in and talk to you. But today, that is part of the food safety measures we take to keep our customers happy.”
But the vision is not yet complete. With a fourth generation coming along, Tupling is very conscious of the need to keep building a viable and sustainable farm for the future. “I wanted to make sure that whatever I helped to build could be passed along,” he says. Tupling eventually wants to acquire or rent more land so that he can ensure a crop rotation of three or more years.
He also believes that technology and sound farming practices must be employed to meet the future challenge of growing food for an expanding world population on a shrinking land base. “I am not totally behind things like genetically modified crops, but I think it’s a way for the future to reduce chemical use,” says Tupling. “If we think back to our parents and grandparents and how they treated the soil—as a way to enhance their ability to grow good crops—that’s the kind of operation I would like to see left for my family.”