For a country of its size, the Netherlands exports a surprising amount of agricultural products. In the case of the Hoogland family of Alberta, the country has also been known to export a few potato farmers, as well.
Jacob Hoogland left his farm in the province of North Holland in the mid-1990s to see what opportunities there might be for a potato-farming family elsewhere. Holland is getting very expensive, he says, and there are other factors at work making the farming of aardappels (Dutch word for potatoes) there less profitable.
“In Holland, my dad was a seed potato farmer all his life, he’s third generation,” said Hoogland, who worked in Alberta for two years before establishing his own farm near Wetaskiwin, Alta. Hoogland’s whole family came over from Holland, including his mother and father, two sisters and also his Swiss brother-in-law, who was a potato farmer himself in Switzerland.
So, why Alberta?
“First of all, I worked in Alberta,” says Hoogland. “And disease-wise, I think this is one of the better, cleaner areas to grow seed potatoes. That’s all we do — seed potatoes.”
Hoogland says his desire to join the Edmonton Potato Growers association also played into his decision. “I really wanted to be part of that. One of the growers helped me get into that group and it gave us a big boost,” he says.
The Hoogland operation currently consists of 300 acres of seed potatoes. Hoogland likes to grow new potato varieties, and has 33 different varieties growing on his farm. “At one time, we had over 40 varieties, but that was just too much —we had to cut back,” he says.
Every November, Hoogland makes a point of returning to Holland to observe the new potato varieties put out by different companies, taking a few farmers with him. They’ve brought some varieties back over from Holland themselves, to see if they’d “take” in Canada, but the process, with quarantine, is lengthy.
“By the time we had some tubers, it took about four years,” says Hoogland of early attempts. “I enjoy trying something new and hope it’s going to work. You try five new varieties and hope one is going to make it.”
Two of Hoogland’s main varieties, currently, are Satina and Goldrush. “Satina is one of the varieties we started with. [We] had a really rough ride (initially), but it’s been really good for us in the last eight or nine years. But we believed in the variety, thought it had a place,” he says. “Some of the challenges, of course, are trying to keep disease-free seed.”
Part of his success, says Hoogland, is keeping his operation close to home. “We are a family operation, and hardly hire any other people,” he says. “On our farm, it’s pretty important for people who know what they are doing with all the varieties. With the shipping and all that stuff, we do it ourselves.”
Hoogland is an active board member for several potato associations, including the EPG and the Potato Growers of Alberta. “The [PGA] seed committee has been really good, that’s right up my alley,” he says.
Like for many potato farms elsewhere in Canada, it was a banner growing year for the Hooglands. “This past year was our best year since we’ve been here,” says Hoogland. “I ended up planting fewer acres than I wanted to, which was good, because we could never have stored it all.”