In the Maine Potato Board’s annual tradition touting the next generation, Ryan Crane from Exeter is the young farmer being held up as a model for managing a large, rotating potato operation.
Crane is production manager at Crane Brothers Farms, a 3,000-acre potato business, and he “exemplifies both the tradition of farming passed down through four generations and a passion for maintaining a cutting edge position,” the board said in a recent statement naming him 2016 Young Farmer of the Year.
Crane is “an excellent representative of the future of the Maine potato industry,” said Maine Potato Board Executive Director Don Flannery.
Crane grew up working on the farm in Exeter, went to Dexter Regional High School and then headed to the Midwest, earning an agricultural economics degree from Purdue University in Indiana in 2008.
Today, Crane is back at Exeter, overseeing planning for the main crop of potatoes, largely sold to Frito Lay for chips, along with rotating crops such as corn, rye and oats on 700 acres in the Androscoggin Valley in western Maine, 700 acres around Lincoln and 1,600 acres in Exeter. Having that geographic spread lets the farm have a hedge against bad weather, pests or market swings, and “the ability to use the same equipment across more acres and a longer cropping season,” Crane said in a media release.
Crane’s family has been growing potatoes since the 1940s, selling chip spuds since the 1960s, and using rotational crops for just as long, predominantly with corn. The family also has been active in potato trade organizations — uncle Steve Crane was 2012 president of the National Potato Council — which has given the younger Crane an appreciation for the influence of food markets and government policy in how farmers end up getting paid.
“In order to sustain our Maine potato industry, we need to be aware and ahead of changing regulations and best practices in production and storage,” said Ryan Crane, who takes the hat of young farmer of the year from Robert Irving, a Washburn native noted for using GPS and X-ray equipment on his 1,300 farm in Caribou. Both are among farmers under 40 being promoted by the Maine Potato Board, amid the aging ranks of the state’s potato farmers, several of whom are lost every few years because of retirement, change in occupation or death.