From The Field

Footsteps

Published in the May 2009 Issue Published online: May 31, 2009 Tyler J. Baum, Editor

A Chinese philosopher once said that, "A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step." My first step began in the home of a potato grower-a seed grower specifically-in the Upper Snake River Valley in southeastern Idaho.

Let me introduce myself. My name is Tyler J. Baum, and I'm the new editor of Potato Grower magazine, a magazine I'm proud to say was always a staple item on our coffee table or on my dad's desk, in our home in the small farming community of Ashton, Idaho. That picturesque little town, with a stunning view of the Grand Tetons, is where I learned what it was like to get truly filthy from a long day of work. I learned what it was like to be exhausted and sore, after sweating all day long out in the sun. I learned that at 6 a.m. on a potato field, before the sun has even risen, anything that a valve opener or a hand line can do to make your job more difficult, they did, which is why I also learned that if a grower doesn't swear, he's probably not working hard enough. But I also learned what it was like to see the fruits of my labor-and take great pride in it. I learned what it was like to actually see stars at night, I learned to appreciate the sweet smell of barley prior to turning gold and I learned the cool feeling of rich soil as we would dig up a single plant to gauge how many tubers we could find and how big they were getting. So when a 68-year-old professor once told my university class that we didn't know what it was like to work the land, I could proudly stand up and correct him. I did.

However, I have to legally insert the caveat that I was spoiled growing up (and my brothers reminded me of that frequently). As the youngest of four kids-three boys-I didn't have to get on a tractor until I was 10 years old. I spent the next decade moving hand lines, sorting spuds, driving a tractor or 10-wheeler, chopping weeds and picking rock. To this day, no one can convince me that lava rock can't reproduce. Because they do.

While growing up I never imagined, doing a job I didn't appreciate at the time, that the most trusted magazine in the potato industry would be the magazine to which I would eventually take charge. With that comes a heavy yolk of responsibility, as I must try to follow in the footsteps of my predecessors-men such as Gary Rawlings, David Fairbourn and Ryan Hales. Needless to say, I have all of their numbers conveniently placed.

I especially have a heavy load to carry since this year is unique in the truest sense of the word-there's never been a year like the one coming up, including those in the Great Depression, as the Chief Operations Officer for the United Potato Growers of America, Buzz Shahan, has stated.

"We're in uncharted waters," he pointed out to a group of growers at the Shilo Inn in Idaho Falls a couple months ago, and unapologetically stated that acreage must be cut down to match supply and demand, because supply and demand is real whether or not we choose to accept it.

Are we truly listening? Do we truly understand that if we grow more acres than people will buy, that it will hurt all of us? To add insult to injury, at press time Mexico had imposed a 20 percent tariff on imported potatoes to their country, a move in retaliation for a move taken by Congress.

The deck appears stacked against us, but it's possible to make a profit. And that's by obeying the law of supply and demand. We don't have to follow the companies in the world that are sinking. We can be the exception.

Let us take the footsteps in 2009 that will ensure our business will thrive, and be passed on for future generations to be able to claim just like me, they know how to work the land.

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