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Serving: MI

Master Farmer expresses can-do spirit

Greg McCarthy becomes a successful first-generation potato grower.

When Greg McCarthy’s dad, Lloyd, would come from his full-time factory job, he would ride back on the tractor to a small field of beans. As a small boy, Greg rode along.

“He’d start cultivating, which is a real slow and tedious job, so at some point he’d drop me at the end of the field, I’d take a few toys and play in the dirt,” Greg recalls.

“I always wanted to be a farmer — there was never anything else.”

Today, Greg farms that original ground in Edmore, Mich., and a lot more in Montcalm County. He’s a fourth-generation farmer, growing 1,900 acres of corn, soybeans, wheat and potatoes for chipping. He farms alongside his son, Matt, wife, Lee Ann, and two employees.

Greg keeps a keen eye on production, the environment and economics.

“He likes to ask questions,” says Phil Tuggle of Michigan Agricultural Commodities, who nominated Greg to receive the 2022 Michigan Master Farmer award. “Greg quietly goes about his business, absorbing all the information he can each day — always looking to grow a better crop and to market more effectively. He doesn’t seek recognition, but he is a true example of the can-do spirit of Michigan and American agriculture.”

Jessica Rader, technical sales representative for Wilbur-Ellis, adds, “Greg always wants to do what is best for the farm, both agronomically and economically, which can be hard. He’s always asking the questions, ‘Why are we doing this? What benefit is this bringing? And what more can I be doing?’ Farming is a balancing act, and he doesn’t want to overapply anything without reason, but he also doesn’t want to shortchange his crops. So, we’re constantly making tweaks and adjustments based on weather and soil conditions, crop needs, and the unpredictable environmental factors that change from year to year.”

Greg farms the soil to its greatest potential, but he is also involved his community, including serving on the Home Township Zoning Board Committee, the Montcalm County Farm Bureau Executive Committee and county president, the Central Michigan Potato Co-op (current president), as well as being a longtime supporter of 4-H.

“Farming, particularly potato farming, is capital intensive,” Greg says. “Anyone farming can tell you it’s a lot of work, but I like seeing a project from beginning to finish. I like challenges. I love working outdoors — it’s just the place for me."

Fourth generation

Greg’s great-grandfather Levi Crockett settled the land in 1897 and built a dairy farm. Greg’s grandfather Arthur Crockett took it over and then, for health reasons, sold it to Greg’s father, Lloyd McCarthy, in 1960.

“I was just 6 months old when my parents moved here — Mom was a school teacher,” says Greg, who graduated from Montabella High School in 1979 and from Michigan State University, where he got a certificate in ag production. The farm switched to beef cattle. “I farmed and helped my dad, getting my feet wet with beef cattle and dry beans, corn, wheat and hay,” Greg says.

He started farming full time in 1982, the same year he married his high school sweetheart, Lee Ann Holton.

“She’s been a wonderful mother to the kids; she’s helped on the farm and worked off the farm,” says Greg, noting they also have a son, Mike, who is married to Karen and is the executive director of the Sault Ste. Marie Soil Conservation District in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. They also have a daughter, Kaelyn Lumbert, who is married to Garrett and is the store manager at Maurice’s in Mount Pleasant. “The kids were quite involved on the farm, and they loved 4-H — showing animals and being involved in many projects,” Greg says.

Growing potatoes

It was Greg’s idea to grow potatoes in 1982, much to his father’s surprise. They started growing table stock potatoes, bagging and selling to stores. An opportunity in 1988 allowed the farm to expand into the chip market business.

He rented a bin for storage, and through the years expanded potato acreage to the 650 acres it is now. One of the companies he was selling potatoes to left the market.

“Potato Services helped me out with getting some bins, which allowed me to grow large enough to be in the business,” says Greg, who now sells potatoes to processing plants, primarily on the East Coast.

In 2002, he went into a partnership with the Anderson brothers, purchasing Spud Pak of Michigan, an existing potato storage company in Edmore, with the Andersons taking two-thirds ownership and Greg one-third. In 2019, the partnership built a new 90,000-cwt.-controlled atmosphere storage facility, and when potatoes are ready for sale, they are sized, washed, graded and loaded on semis and shipped from late August until May.

“Greg is very deserving of this award,” says Rick Anderson, manager of Spud Pak. “He is very hands-on, and no matter what time of day or night, he is available to answer questions and is ready to jump in and get the job done.”

Ninety-five percent of all crops are center-pivot irrigated. “We started with zero irrigation, but we bought a farm with a well on it and never looked backed, especially with the sandy soils we have here,” Greg says. “I’ve gotten more invested in irrigation than anything else, and it’s always paid off and allowed us to try other crops too, like string beans, seed corn, pickling cucumbers and others.”

Today, crops are grown on a three-year rotation of corn, potatoes and wheat. “That’s our primary rotation; sometimes we add some soybeans and hay,” Greg says.

Potatoes require conventional tillage while corn is no-tilled. McCarthy Farm uses grid sampling and variable-rate spreading, along with regular, in-season scouting fertility applications to make sure to address crop needs throughout the growing season. Once the crops are off, cover crops are planted to build soil structure and prevent erosion.

Growing potatoes in the early 1980s included a lot of aerial spraying, which has since been replaced with in-crop application. “There are challenges in this industry, but lately it seems like it’s been labor,” Greg says. “Labor is a big challenge in trying to find people that want to come to work every day.”

New to the farm in 2020 is a farm market with meat, ice cream, vegetables, canned goods, jams, milk and, of course, potatoes. The market showcases local and Michigan-made products. “That’s all her idea,” Greg says, pointing at Lee Ann, who was watching their newest grandbaby, 2-year old Bryson. They also have a 15-year-old grandson, Haden.

When Greg’s not farming, he likes to go to a cabin up north with friends to snowmobile.

“As John F. Kennedy said, ‘The farmer is the only man in our economy who buys everything at retail, sells everything at wholesale and pays the freight both ways,’ ” Greg says. “That’s pretty accurate, but farming is a good living, it’s a good place to raise your family, and we have good neighbors, a good community — I wouldn’t trade it.”

Greg McCarthy at a glance 

Farm: McCarthy raises 1,900 acres of corn, potatoes, wheat and soybeans.

Nominator: Phil Tuggle, Michigan Agricultural Commodities

Ag and community leadership: Home Township Zoning Board Committee, Montcalm County Farm Bureau Executive Committee and county president, member (current president) of the Central Michigan Potato Co-op, 4-H volunteer

Awards: 1998 Michigan Potato Grower of the Year, Pioneer and Dekalb seed corn production awards

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