I Am the USPB!

Meet Melanie Likes of Shelley, Idaho

Published in the September 2009 Issue Published online: Sep 07, 2009 David Fairbourn
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United States Potato Board research identifies women between the ages of 25 to 54, with children at home, as the core, target consumer of U.S. fresh potatoes. This target consumer, epitomized by the moniker "Linda," is heedful of her family's tastes and preferences, and is concerned for her and her family's health and wellness.

In a survey prepared for the USPB titled "Potato Attitude & Usage 2009," the Linda target audience revealed 91 percent included potatoes in at least one in-home dinner in the past seven days, 47 percent included potatoes three or more times and 38 percent prepared potatoes in a microwave in the past 30 days.

As a USPB board member, Melanie Likes of Shelley, Idaho, can be considered a valuable anomaly. She represents "Linda" as a mother with children at home, but she is also a grower.

"I started doing tractor work at age 10, and by age 13, I was driving potato trucks during harvest," Likes said. "For 22 years, I drove a stick-shift just like everybody else during harvest. But in 1996, my family bought me my own 10-wheeler with an automatic transmission. I've since had my name painted on it along with purple racing stripes. It's my truck."


Likes grew up farming alongside her father, Ronald Esplin, and her brothers. Today, she and her husband, Rick Likes, farm their own land. They are also partners in Ronald Esplin and Sons, farming with her father and brother, Blair Esplin, and his wife, Cheryl.

"We farm 2,000 acres in our family partnership," she says.

Four generations of Esplins have farmed in Idaho. Today, between 750 and 1,000 acres of potatoes are grown. Wheat and alfalfa are the rotation crops. Russet Burbank potatoes are grown for processing with Idahoan and Idaho Supreme.

"This year, we can't seem to shut the clouds off, so water is not an issue like it has been in the past," Likes said. "With so much rain, the threat of late blight is always a concern. We maintain a regular protectant application program, and we haven't heard of or experienced any outbreaks in our region."

True to Lindas everywhere, Likes is quick to recognize the role her husband and children play in the success of their farm.

"We truly are a family farming operation," she says. "Our children are grown and married for the most part and are attending nearby universities, but they have all returned home to work on the farm, at least part time. They are usually the ones driving most of the trucks during harvest."

Likes' daughter, Jessica, is married to Josh Harris and works part time on the farm. She has a degree in Interior Design from Brigham Young University-Idaho.

Her son, Christopher, is married to wife, Brandee, and works with Rick and Melanie full time. He has an associate's degree in Agriculture Management.

Another son, Derrick, recently married wife, Bryana, and is also a part-time farm employee. He is studying Business Management at Brigham Young University-Idaho.

Likes' youngest son, Tehren, has been farming with the family too, but is now serving a mission for his church in Everett, Wash.


Being "Linda"-the core consumer of fresh potatoes-a potato grower and a USPB board member is a unique convergence in roles for Likes. Though a typical Linda does not have the same background, attitudes or ideas about potatoes, Likes still has unique insights valuable to the USPB and its work in targeting Lindas everywhere.

"It has been a real privilege to serve the U.S. potato industry as a USPB board member," Likes says. "There are a lot of growers who are men, who play an important role and like to serve on the USPB-and they have done a great job. But when it comes to increasing demand and marketing more potatoes, having a woman's perspective and representation can be very important."

Likes is familiar with the industry and its marketing issues. She has been involved with Potato Growers of Idaho and attended many industry meetings with her father, Ron, and her brothers. In 2005, her brother, Keith Esplin, then executive director of PGI, asked Likes if she would accept a nomination to the USPB. She was seated during the 2006 USPB Annual Meeting.

In 2008, Likes was nominated to the Administrative Committee and served on the USPB Domestic Marketing Committee. She was recently re-nominated to serve another three-year term on the USPB representing Idaho.

"I really enjoyed serving on Domestic Marketing as an Administrative Committee Member," Likes said. "It was exciting to be involved and learn more about the USPB's programs. The interaction with growers from diverse production regions, representing the chip, fresh, seed and frozen processed sectors, making key decisions and bringing many insights and perspectives was very enlightening."

While serving on the Domestic Marketing Committee, Likes was involved with rolling out the first implementation of the "Potatoes.Goodness Unearthed" nutrition campaign. She attended a joint meeting with the Fresh Demand Working Group (FDWG) at the Sterling Rice Group's offices in Boulder, Colo., where the "Peel Back the Truth" ad series was first introduced.

"This was the first time I got to see behind the scenes of what comprises a national ad campaign," Likes says. "The research involved really surprised me. The Sterling Rice Group produced many ideas and several concepts. These were tested with focus groups to see which concept resonated the most with the Linda target audience, and would likely produce the best results.

"This was a process of elimination involving an impressive amount of effort, and as the USPB Domestic Marketing Committee, we were invited to participate with the final review and decision-making before the print ads rolled out to the national women's interest magazines."

"Everybody's farms and operations are different, but "Potatoes.Goodness Unearthed" has relevance for all potato producers," Likes says. "Selling more potatoes is relevant to everyone in this industry. As this nutrition campaign catches on, it will help all segments in marketing and selling more potatoes."

"We often don't see this work because we are so close to the production," she says. "It's eye-opening to consider export programs, food-aid, the meetings and events with chefs to get potato items on menus, the Best In Class retail program-a lot of growers don't realize how hard the USPB staff is working in developing foreign and domestic market opportunities."

Likes shares a recent experience with food-aid organizations during a USPB reverse trade mission. Representatives attending this event were very enthused to learn about potato production, how they are processed and how they can be used. She also notes the important work going forward with innovation and making potatoes and potato products that are quick and easy.

"Grower dollars are put to good use with the USPB," she says. "There are so many programs representing all segments-everybody is very well represented."