The pandemic may have caused problems in the potato industry, but the Perry family are looking at the bright side as their family works together to improve their farm.
Fourth generation farming brothers Harold and Chris Perry have spent their whole lives working on the family farm at Chin, Alta. and up until this year they weren’t exactly sure how many of their children would be interested in taking over the operation.
“The girls weren’t that interested in the farm. Whereas recently with the pandemic, they all came home from school and they’ve been chipping in on the farm a little bit more,” Chris says in a phone interview. “I would say there’s not a single one of them right now that would say ‘I’m not considering the farm as a future option’.”
Harold’s daughters, Chloe, Charlotte and Elise, and his son Dane, along with Chris’ daughters, Rayn, Amaya and Sye, are all helping out on the Perry Family Farm. The two families, along with their parents, Gerald and Beerta, Harold’s wife Jill and Chris’ wife Kyra, run a french fry and chipping potato operation with 4,500 irrigated acres and 30,000 tons of potato storage.
Gerald has been growing potatoes since the late 1960s and the family has been hauling to its neighbour, McCain Food’s Coaldale plant, since it opened 20 years ago. Throughout Chris and Harold’s time running the farm they have worked on diversifying their operation to weather through market lows such as the current pandemic.
“The chipping industry is stable and doing well,” Chris explains. “The french fry industry, it’s very much an export industry…. so that industry has been drastically affected and we’re sitting on old crop.”
The Perry’s have had to switch some of the fry potato acres to other crops due to reduced contract volume with McCain. They’re also down on staff a bit and have higher operating expenses as they won’t be using their full potato storage capacity this year.
They still count themselves as fortunate though with the current economic struggles Alberta is facing due to the downturn in the oil industry. In May, the Perry’s took part in McCain’s free fry day with Western Tractor and J.E.B. Trucking which raised money for HALO Air Ambulance.
“We contributed a significant amount to HALO from our farm as it is such a great program for rural southern Alberta,” Chris says. “They did the press event right in our backyard, which was great, and we were very happy to support the cause.”
Free fry day was held on May 29 and saw McCain distribute free fries at Western Tractor locations in Lethbridge, Burdette, Taber and Medicine Hat, with J.E.B. Trucking delivering the fries. Donations were accepted for HALO with $400,000 being raised.
The family is also focused on improving their farm through a biogas facility and soil health. The Perry’s own a biogas facility where they use manure and raw potatoes to power their farm. They also plant cover crops and spread green manure to improve their soil health.
“Our big mission is to leave the farm and soil health in better shape than it was given to use,” Harold says. “We’re not just here to make a buck off the farm. We want to create healthy soils that produce healthy nutrient dense crops for a healthier population.”