WPVGA Honors Robert Helbach with Hall of Fame Induction
Long-time processed potato and vegetable grower Robert Helbach of Helbach Farms, Amherst, was inducted into the Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association Hall of Fame at the industry’s annual awards banquet held February 4, 2015 in Stevens Point.
The Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association Hall of Fame honors lifetime achievement in the development of the state’s potato industry. It is the intention of the WPVGA to continue to honor individuals who have made significant contributions to the potato industry in Wisconsin by making annual Hall of Fame inductions.
The following is a brief biographical sketch of this year’s WPVGA Hall of Fame inductee.
Robert “Bob” Helbach was born on November 3, 1942 in Amherst, Wisconsin, the son of George and Merle Helbach. He married Helen Dernbach on April 4, 1964 in Almond, Wisconsin. They have five children, 14 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Helbach Farms has a long history in the Amherst area. Bob Helbach’s father, George, started farming in the area in the early 1930s. The farm was primarily a dairy operation, although they grew 8-10 acres of potatoes every year and peddled them throughout central Wisconsin.
Bob and his wife, Helen, took over the farm operation in 1974, moving away from dairy and concentrating on vegetables. He began growing potatoes in 1980 and later became one of the top growers of processed potatoes for Ore-Ida Foods, winning Top Grower and Bruise Free awards.
Bob’s sons, Mike and Kirk joined the farm in the 1990s, and now have taken over running the family business, along with their brother, George, who became an owner of the farm in 2002. They have done an outstanding job raising potatoes for processing, as they have won Champion Grower awards from McCain Foods six times since 2002. They now raise approximately 450 acres of chipping potatoes for Heartland Farms in addition to 350 acres of Russet Burbanks for McCain.
Bob has been a long-time leader of growers in the processed vegetable industry, helping organize growers and conduct meetings with processors to improve communications as well as grower viability. Helbach set up meetings with growers, processors and the banking community to discuss contracts and stress the need for returns to growers that were above the cost of production. His efforts opened lines of communication between growers and processors, and fostered cooperation rather than confrontation between these business partners.
Bob worked hard over the years to promote grower unity. His spirit of cooperation enabled the growers of processed vegetables to balance their books and eventually make a profit. He has truly been an ambassador for the Wisconsin potato and vegetable industry.
Now retired, Bob enjoys spending time with his family, as well as golfing and watching high school sports.
[Note: A Press Release with more details on the Hall of Fame induction is being sent to all media.]