days in the north produce seed potatoes with more energy and vigour, which carries over through several generations of seed.”
Not only do they produce more, but the website also claims these northern Alberta potatoes are healthier, with less bacteria, virus and pest diseases, due to the cold winter temperatures.
Growing seed potatoes is a finicky business, and not for everyone. Absolutely no aphids are tolerated in the greenhouse, which has a very fine screen all around, and a double door entry system to prevent aphids from getting in. Yellow sticky traps are set up to check for aphids. When aphid populations are high outside, Renee will spray with diazanon.
Renee starts out with nine varieties in the greenhouse, among them the popular Yukon Gold, Russet Burbank, Norland, Umatilla and Shepody — an early French Fries potato. She has 16,000 plants growing in boxes of Promix BX (a soil-less mix) in the greenhouse. This mix can’t be reused, so must be bought new every year. The plants produce an average of three tubers, sometimes eight. Renee keeps even the smallest tuber to plant the following year.
The new tubers are left in their peat boxes and transferred to the insulated storage shed for the winter, keeping wonderfully. All the potatoes are stored on the farm throughout winter till spring shipping. The potato sheds are cooled to 3.5C with exhaust fans. Refrigeration fans are not necessary.
Renee’s seed potatoes are sold across Canada with the majority to seed potato growers in Alberta and Manitoba. All seed to the U. S is sold through a broker.
Harvesting 75 acres of potatoes at the same time as the grain can be a challenge. It works because everyone helps each other. The
For the Jonk family, new ideas are often found on the road. “Dad and I like traveling,” Theo says. A few years ago Nick went through Argentina and Brazil with just a backpack. Theo has been to Kenya and Tanzania, Argentina, Western Australia and Europe.
They have applied many new ideas and new technologies on the farm. Theo uses GPS and autosteer on the airseeder and sprayer. “I can’t imagine spraying without it,” he says. Three years ago he started straight combining about 30 per cent of the canola, a practice still rather uncommon in the area.
Using a Lexion 560 he straight cuts the best fields with the thickest stands. They get a custom operator to swath the rest of the canola. Theo believes they get a five to seven bushel per acre increase in yield, better sized seeds and more oil.
Last year a local retailer — Little Anchor Farms Ltd. — did some plots with liquid fertilizer as top dressing on the Jonk farm. They are interested in doing more of that, another practice new in the area.
In the past year, Jonks used turkey manure from a turkey
peas are usually harvested first. Theo combines the canola on his own, making sure enough trucks are in the field in the morning, while Nick and Renee harvest the potatoes with hired help. After a rain, potatoes can still be harvested while waiting for grain to
farm in Thorhild, Alta. “There should be way more dairy farms around, so we could get more manure,” Renee says. They have also used wood ash and bulk sulphur to build up the soil. Nick is the one who likes to try new things. The soybeans were his idea. He read about a Saskatchewan farmer that grew them and by the time he hung up the phone he’d ordered seed. The crop didn’t do too well — the year was late and cold in Westlock. They should be given another chance, Theo thinks.
The Jonks carry crop insurance and use AgriStability, but diversification is their best risk management tool — seed potatoes, seed grain, and canola.
The Jonks believe the future for farming is positive. They are planning for succession, but the accountant told them he believes a son or daughter should be with the farm for five years before a farm family begins to finalize plans.
There are other children in the picture, but none are as serious about farming as Theo is. “Lifestyle is a big thing. I couldn’t see myself sitting behind a desk,” he says.
dry out. It has been a good business. “The value of an acre of high generation seed potatoes is easily 10 times that of grain or canola,” says Renee.
Marianne Stamm is a freelance farm writer from Jarvie, Alta. Email her at [email protected]