Iott Seed Farms has family farming roots that go back more than 100 years. We first started farming in Monroe County, located in southeast Michigan, in the late 1800s or early 1900s. Brothers Ralph and Jim Iott farmed together in the same area after Ralph graduated from high school in 1953. The farm originally included several varieties of vegetables and canning tomatoes before adding chipping potatoes in the early ’60s. By the early ’70s, the type of land needed for reliable potato production was getting scarce in southern Michigan, so Ralph and Jim began scouting for potato land in northern Michigan.
In 1974, they purchased the first 500 acres of what would eventually be Iott Seed Farms in Kalkaska. For several years, they – mostly Ralph – “commuted” 250 miles during planting and harvest season while Dennis (Ralph’s oldest son) and several friends and cousins stayed in Kalkaska to take care of the farm during the summer. The first several years of potato production in Kalkaska were for the Frito Lay chip plant in Allen Park.
In 1978, Ralph and his family moved to Kalkaska and built the first seed potato storage on the farm. In 1981, Dennis moved to Kalkaska with his wife, Dawn, and joined the farm. Dennis’ younger brother Greg joined the farm in 1992 and married Bonnie five years later.
For several years after Ralph’s move north, the farm focused on chip varieties for seed, including Frito Lay seed, and processing potatoes for the two French fry plants in Michigan. In 1997, the last fry plant closed, which left the farm at a crossroads. The farm needed to add revenue or cut expenses in a serious way. That’s when the transition to becoming a full-time seed producer took place.
In the fall of 1998, a new seed storage with 60,000 cwt (6 million pounds) of capacity was completed and filled with potatoes. Growth in seed volume followed, and the storage and land base was expanded with additions of 30,000 cwt in 2002, 2009 and 2013. Storage capacity now stands at 174,000 cwt with room to grow.
With an eye on the future, Greg and Dennis recruited nephew Bryan Fischer in 2012. He and his wife Amber, along with their children Kaden and Abbey, moved to Kalkaska in August 2012. A third child, Lucas, joined the family in 2015. Bryan had many summers of experience on the farm prior to joining Iott Seed Farms full-time. He has been on a fast leadership track and will be a key contributor as the farm continues to grow.