Nick and Renee Jonk, together with son Theo, operate J-Six Acres in Westlock County, Alta. Each member of the management team has his or her area of interest and expertise.
The family crops 3,000 acres, half of which is in canola. The other half is in oats, peas, triticale and some barley — most of which is grown for seed. For Renee, her passion is seed potatoes.
Nick, one of 10 children, worked on the family farm that also ran other successful businesses. They had cows and hay, and operated hay and alfalfa processing plants in Boyle and Grimshaw. Renee joined the farm in 1982, after which she and Nick began farming more on their own, eventually renting much of the family land. The years in hay would give them clean fields later for seed oats.
Renee and Nick operate the farm as a partnership. Theo, who has an agriculture production diploma from Olds College, joined his parents five years ago. They work together as a family, but each has their area of competence. Theo runs the machinery, doing the seeding, spraying and combining. “Dad does the marketing,” Theo says. The seed grains — about 800 acres of oats, peas, triticale and barley — are sold through the Westlock Seed Cleaning Coop Ltd. Nick also gets things ready, making sure the bins are clean and that seed and fertilizer get to the field.
“Mom does the bookwork,” Theo says. And the potato business is her baby, too.
RENEE’S POTATO PASSION
Second generation Dutch, it isn’t surprising the Jonks grow potatoes. In 2007, there were 14 greenhouse potato growers in Alberta. All but two were Dutch! Renee started growing seed potatoes in l990. They had a friend in B. C. and also family in Manitoba who were growing potatoes successfully. “I didn’t know what would grow in Alberta,” says Renee, who grew up in the B. C. lower mainland. But when a neighbour dumped a huge bag of locally-grown spuds on their lawn, Renee was convinced “they would grow fantastic here.”
From the start, Renee grew high generation, or elite, seed potatoes — certified under CFIA regulations for seed production purposes. Two laboratories in Edmonton supply the plant cuttings, which are grown in the greenhouse the first year. The resulting tubers are planted in the field for at least two more years before they are sold to seed farmers in Canada and the U. S.
The size of Renee’s venture started with a question to her family: “How many acres are you willing to let me do?” She usually grows 75 acres of Pre Elite, Elite I, and Elite II generation potatoes (which represent first and second and third year in the field after one year in the greenhouse.) They’ve planted 100 acres but ran out of storage space.
While Renee makes the decisions for the potatoes, Theo does the spraying and Nick helps with the harvest and equipment. Nick and Renee are members of the Potato Growers of Alberta (PGA). Nick has served on the seed potato board.
Renee says the PGA is instrumental in helping potato growers — seed and otherwise — in negotiating with governments about cross border and other issues.
The “northern vigour” of Canadian potatoes is a researched fact. “The descendant of the seed potato grown in Northern Alberta will produce up to 30 per cent more,” according to the web-site “Scientists say the long summer