April 07, 2020

Farmers struggle to keep tradition Fewer must work larger potato plots

LIMESTONE – Potato farming is in Fred Edgecomb’s blood.

Edgecomb and his brother Robert are sixth-generation potato farmers. While they are part of a long family tradition, they’re also part of a shrinking demographic in Limestone.

Less than 10 years ago, the town had about 25 farmers. Now there are fewer than a dozen.

The Edgecombs work about 1,400 acres – about 500 in potatoes – under the Edgecomb Farms name, doing everything they can to make ends meet.

Fred Edgecomb, a soft-spoken man with wire-rimmed glasses and an easy smile, explained recently that the farm his great-great-great-grandfather worked was 80 acres. His grandfather worked about 400 acres. Now he and his brother work almost quadruple that just to survive.

That’s because the cost of equipment is rising and per-acre profits are declining, making it hard for smaller farms to absorb the costs.

Edgecomb and his brother are doing everything they can – diversifying, rotating heavily, being environmentally friendly, and growing for different markets – to make a living. Not just because it’s in their blood, but because it’s their right and they believe it’s an enduring business.

“The soil is here. This is what we have. We’re going to try to continue to be farmers and use the land as best as possible,” Edgecomb said.

The farms were here long before the Air Force base and other enterprise arrived, and Edgecomb thinks they will remain longer than anything else.

He and his brother are hoping the industry as a whole can attract more processors and open up new markets to help them sustain potato farming.

“We need private enterprise. We need to show them that we have the people, product and things that can help them build their businesses,” Edgecomb said. “If we can do that, we can build our own industry and ensure our survival.”

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