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At Tiede Farms, new generations bring new ideas

Last year, Alex Tiede approached his father, Jim, with the idea of purchasing two semi-trucks to haul seed and compost for Jim Tiede Farms.

The American Falls, ID-based company had been using outside contractors to do that work, and the younger Mr. Tiede thought he could save money and do it more efficiently by bringing it in house.

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Otto, Alex and Jim Tiede, representing the second, fourth and third generations of the family business. (Photo courtesy of the Tiede family)

“It reminded me of the time years ago when I approached my father, Otto, about investing money to switch to center-pivot irrigation,” said Mr. Tiede.

And years before that, Otto Tiede made a pitch to his father, John, about drilling wells in order to bring irrigation to the area, according to Mr. Tiede, a member of the third generation of the family business.

“It’s important to the Idaho potato industry, which has a rich history of multi-generational families, to have new ideas coming up from new generations,” said Mr. Tiede.

The Tiede family first began farming in Idaho in 1908, when John Tiede homesteaded in the area. The original farm was 320 acres and consisted mostly of dry land crops, like wheat.

John Tiede’s son, Otto, returned to the farm after fighting in World War II and was among the early proponents of drilling wells to bring irrigation to the area. In about the early 1950s, the Tiede farm, which had grown to about 1,200 acres, had about 800 acres under irrigation, and additional crops, such as potatoes and sugar beets, were added.

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John Tiede, who began farming in Idaho in the early 20th century, tending to his land. (Photo courtesy of the Tiede family)

Like most other members of his generation, Mr. Tiede started working on the farm at a very young age.

“It was a tremendous childhood growing up on the farm,” he said. “You really learned how to work and to appreciate all that our forefathers had done.”

Mr. Tiede said that it was a wonderful experience working with his father, who he said imparted a great deal of farming knowledge and business skills in him, such as the ability to manage cash flow and asset ratios.

When Alex Tiede graduated from the College of Idaho with a degree in marketing and finance and came on board full time about three years ago, Mr. Tiede greeted him with open arms — and a raft of responsibilities.

“I turned all the books over to him, and I am renting about half the potato acreage to him, and he runs his own show on that,” said Mr. Tiede. “We share equipment, but he has his own operating loan and manages his own expenses, and he gets to keep his own profits from that. He has been really good about reinvesting back in the business.

“At 57, I am trying to get my foot off the throttle, but he is charging ahead with new ideas,” Mr. Tiede continued. “He’s got a good business savvy. It’s been fun to watch.”

He added that while it is fun to see the new generations come up through the ranks, there is some weight that comes with the process.

“I tell people that it is harder to be the one to carry it on than start from nothing, because you don’t want to screw up something that grandpa worked so hard to build,” Mr. Tiede said.

Working together certainly can draw family members closer together, but in the Tiede family outside interests provide good opportunities to bond. Among the favorite shared activities in the Tiede family are hunting and fishing.

“We mostly hunt big game, like elk and deer, but also pheasant and geese,” said Mr. Tiede. “We have what’s called a landowners permit for our farm, which allows us to hunt here. My son recently got a nice 5x6 bull elk a few miles from here on our farm. It’s kind of fun to be able to hunt like that right out your own back door. We also have a tremendous flight of Canada geese that head south for the winter, which gives us a good opportunity to hunt.”

Similar to his farming philosophy of being a good steward of the land, Mr. Tiede said that it is important to hunt responsibly and protect the species.

“After all, you never really own the land, you just take care of it until the next generation takes over,” he said. “You want to leave it intact or better for them.”

Mr. Tiede is currently the chairman of the Idaho Potato Commission, which will celebrate its 75th anniversary in 2012, and he is a staunch believer in the organization and the work it does for the industry.

“Those gentlemen who decided to start the commission 75 years ago were really forward-thinking,” said Mr. Tiede. “The idea to have a commission to advertise Idaho potatoes and bring it into a premier position was wonderful. The groundwork that they put in, we have reaped the benefits for years. Now we have a brand that is known throughout the world.”

Like others, Mr. Tiede came to appreciate the work of the IPC as he matured and gained a better understanding of the potato industry.

“My first recollection of the IPC is when I was 19 and I had 80 acres of potatoes,” he said. “I went to a couple of meetings that winter with my dad. When I got my check and saw the deduction for the check-off, I thought, ‘Who are these people taking my money?’ So I went to some more meetings and I saw the good that the commission was doing. It really opened my eyes to exactly who my customers are. Not the sheds that I sold to, but the end-users like consumers and restaurants. It really showed me the value of what they do.”

Speaking personally and on behalf of the commissioners, Mr. Tiede said, “It’s quite a commitment to serve. The commissioners do yeoman’s duty and have to spend a lot of time away from their businesses and families, so it’s not easy. But they love the industry and we are greatly indebted to them.”

He added that service for the greater good of the industry is nothing new.

“It’s a very unified industry, we are all close-knit,” said Mr. Tiede. “We share information and customers, and even though we compete with each other, we help each other out. It’s a quality industry that works together to pull in the same direction.”

For example, Mr. Tiede said that the Idaho potato industry banded together about a decade ago to combat the Atkins Diet and the anti-carbohydrate movement, which sought to discredit the nutritional value of potatoes.

“That was the first big stumbling block that the potato had for its image,” he said. “We really worked hard to fight that, and not just Idaho but the entire [potato] industry. Through our collective efforts, I think we have been able to counter the negative public image, but we still have to work diligently. Just recently they were looking to pull potatoes off the school lunch menus, so it’s an ongoing effort to push and promote the healthy image of potatoes.”

And while much of the work the IPC does is for the benefit of the potato industry as a whole, Mr. Tiede is comfortable with Idaho taking the lead on those efforts.

“We were the first to fight against the anti-carb message, but we really need to be the leaders, because no one else has the money or the resources that Idaho does,” he said. “That’s our job, and I don’t mind doing that.”