Carl Hoverson grew up near Manvel, ND, on a sugar beet and grain farm that was started by his grandfather, he was No. 6 of eight children. ”When I got out of high school, the price of wheat was $5 a bushel, barley was $4.40 and sugar beets were 65 cents a pound, ” Hoverson says. It was an exciting time. A lot of people from my era are still farming today because they have seen the good times in agriculture.
After high school, Hoverson started at UND in engineering, but switched to NDSU. Hoverson’s father became ill in 1975, so he and two brothers returned home to farm. His father died in January 1976 and Carl, 20 and his brother, Keith, formed Hoverson Brothers. Hoverson stopped college two years short of his degree.
“It was either farm or I wouldn’t have another chance,” Hoverson says.
Hoverson started raising potatoes in 1981. “The first year we had 40 acres of whites,” he says of the round types used for making potatoes chips.
The second year Hoverson went on his own and went to 110 acres and added the reds, the so-called tablestock potatoes. Hoverson sold his white potatoes to Northern Star Co. of Minneapolis and reds to Ryan Farms of East Grand Forks.Potatoes climbed up to 400 acres in 1984. In the mid-1980s, Hoverson started raising potatoes on contract for the Simplot French fry plant in Grand Forks. “The russets did real well, and the next few years, we started expanding them, dropping back on other varieties,” Hoverson says.
Then came the drought of 1988. Hoverson’s spud acreage had grown to 1,600 acres, but he wasn’t able to fill his Simplot contracts that year. In 1989, it was dry again, but Hoverson had planted two quarters of potatoes on irrigated land near Orr, ND, about 15 miles north and west of Larimore. “If you were going to expand with Simplot you had to have irrigation,” Hoverson says. “From then on, we started expanding faster, switching everything to russets. We switched all of our business to Simplot. One of the main reasons was because they were closer, for the freight.”
McCanna, ND became the geographical center of his farming operation, but the farm headquarters was placed at Larimore, ND at the intersection of U.S. Highway 2 and North Dakota Highway 18.
By 1993, Hoverson had grown to 1,600 acres of potatoes. He was farming from east of Manvel to south of Grand Forks, to Orr and Kempton. It became unwieldy, so in 1994, he rented out the eastern farmland and expanded in the irrigation to the west. That year he formed a 50-50 partnership with Ron Offutt of Fargo. Offutt, North Dakota’s most successful potato entrepreneur and the world’s largest coordinator of potato production, has numerous processing and agribusiness interests in numerous states. Besides a wealth of potato knowledge, Offutt offered Hoverson an ability to expand at the rate he wanted to. There was a built-in market for potatoes in years when Hoverson’s production exceeded his Simplot contract.
With this marketing strength, Hoverson was able to start building refrigerated storage sheds; one each in 1994, 1995, and 1996. Each of the sheds is a $1.4 million investment to build and equip. Hoverson expanded to about 4,500 acres of russets in 1997, a figure that’s held constant for the past five years. Hoverson owns about 10 percent of the land. He owns all of the pivots and associated infrastructure.
All of Hoverson’s irrigated land is in what is known as the Elk Valley Aquifer. Water lies about 20 feet below the surface 100 feet below the surface. Most of the water is in an area four miles wide and 25 miles long.
Hoverson clearly relished the challenge of operating a farm of this size. “I know this is what I wanted to do & whatever I could handle,” Hoverson says of the farm size. “The expansion opportunity was there and we could handle it. It’s been a great experience, the building of the farm to this size and operating it.”
Hoverson says he’s no longer trying to expand his potato acreage but isexpanding the land base to provide a full, three-year rotation for his spuds. He continually evaluates land to cull out poorer land and replace it with better land. There is a constant quest to find the best-drained land. “After the year 2000, having 17 inches of rain in one day,” Hoverson says. “Any year after that – where you have less water is going to be better.” He’s also trying to sustain or improve yields on a consistent basis so the farm can be profitable every year.
Hoverson likes working with people. That’s good, because employee numbers swell to 132 during the harvest. Hoverson has 32 landlords with whom he works. Hoverson gets help from Robert Montgomery, his general foreman, who has been with him since 1988.
The larger farm is split into three units, particularly for harvest. Each has its own digging and shipping crew. Hoverson and his sons, Mike & Casey, joke that the farming operation takes seven days “maybe eight days“ a week during the farming season.
–Article by Mikkel Pates, AgWeek