More than 99% of Wisconsin’s farms are family owned. Coloma Farms, Inc. in Coloma, WI, is one of them. Located 4 miles west of Coloma on Hwy 21, it is operated and managed by Steve Diercks and his son, Andy. Andy says the farm originally started farther north.
“The original farm that my great grandfather Ben started was called Diercks and Sons, located in White Lake, WI, 20 miles east of Antigo. They grew seed and fresh potatoes there,” says Andy. “Back then, potatoes were sold mostly in 100 lb. sacks, and they used to load them on trains to get them to market.”
In 1962, the “Sons” separated with Andy’s grandfather Robert and father Steve starting the operation in Coloma, where Andy has known it since childhood. Although he’s a potato grower’s son, he can’t say he grew up on the farm. “Our family house was in Coloma, a few miles away. Mom didn’t want Dad to be that close to the farm. Besides, she was from Racine and didn’t want to live out in the country,” Andy jokes.
Andy went to UW-Madison for agricultural engineering. He says he started working full time on the farm after graduation and never left! “My favorite part about this industry is the people,” he says. “I love how much we work with the University of Wisconsin Madison, and how we constantly look at doing things better. I like that we can have real conversations with researchers and our fellow growers about what’s going on.”
It’s this relationship and the commitment from the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association (WPVGA) to that research effort that helps drive the future of the industry, Andy adds. “No one else in the country has the potato research team that we have. The original members of that research team came of age with my father and grandfather, and now I have the pleasure of working with the second generation.”
It’s this research team, combined with growers like Andy and other grower members of the WPVGA that are working to educate the public on farmers’ water management and the science that exists beneath the surface of farming.
Andy says, “We only use the water we need for our crops each year based on rainfall and recharge. Furthermore, sustainability is at the heart of every conversation between Wisconsin’s farmers. Our customers are starting to learn more about this concept and understand its importance in today’s world.”
Today, Coloma Farms, Inc. grows about 850 acres of potatoes, and 400-700 acres each of corn and soybeans. They maintain 7 full-time employees and hire 8-10 part time workers during planting and 25 during harvest. They recently upgraded to a new packing facility where they started packaging new potatoes each season around the 1st of August.
Andy serves on the WPVGA Promotions Committee, the WPVGA Water Task Force, DATCP’s Citizen Board, the Discovery Farms Advisory Council, and is also Chairman of the USPB Chip Committee.
His father, Steve Diercks, currently sits on the WPVGA Board of Directors and serves on the Research and Governmental Affairs committees. Both Steve and Andy have served as president of the WPVGA Board of Directors in addition to each having served six years on the United States Potato Board (USPB).