From The Field

Ace in the Hand

Published in the September 2009 Issue Published online: Sep 07, 2009 Tyler J. Baum, Editor
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I've never been much of a fan of country music (okay, stop with the booing), but I've always liked the classic song by Kenny Rogers, "The Gambler." It's got a fun beat to it, and it's always enjoyable to me when a song tells a story. This particular song tells the story of a man down on his luck who, on a train "bound for nowhere," happens to sit next to a seasoned gambler. The gambler reads the man's face and gives him some advice, which provides the narrator with an "ace" he can keep.

In the chorus, he says, "You got to know when to hold `em, know when to fold `em, Know when to walk away and know when to run. You never count your money when you're sittin' at the table. There'll be time enough for countin' when the dealin's done."

Now, while gambling is obviously not a smart thing to do if you want to become financially successful, to a degree that's what growers have had to do nearly every season-gamble with particulars, such as destructive weather patterns and fluctuating demand.

I've never been a gambler myself, but I've always considered the chorus as words of prudence, much like the words out of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament-that to every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven, and that includes "A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away" (Eccl. 3:6). There's a time to fold, and there's a time to keep those cards in your hand tightly until the time is right.

As growers, we've been cutting our losses for way too long. Hand after hand we've been dealt poor cards, but year and year growers have found a way to make it work. The United Potato Growers of America and those United organizations in each individual state have been encouraging growers to keep their acres in check, thus helping us ride the recent economic storm.

While there was a projected 4.6 percent increase in 2009-2010 acres in Idaho compared to 2008-2009, as reported by the United Potato Growers of Idaho this summer, they also reported at least 10,000 of those acres are contracted. Paris Penfold, a Teton Valley, Idaho, grower points out in the United Potato Growers of America column in this issue that because of planning ahead, seed growers-and other growers as well, I might add-have been able to avert disaster, even as the economy has suffered.

Before every last potato has been sold this year, we need to take the Gambler's advice by not counting our money while we're still sitting at the table, but we also need to use this time to innovate. Also in this issue, Marieke de Rijke, VP of Rabobank International Food & Agribusiness Research and Advisory, points out that the recession isn't a time to wait-it's a time to innovate. Now's the time to find ways to increase demand, now that people are cutting expenses and getting back to the basics. And what a better way to get back to the basics than purchasing a healthy potato that can be prepared in countless different ways.

It's time to take a second look at the hand we've got. After all, there's an ace in this hand we can keep.

Tyler Baum