Overcoming Selective Dementia

The Fundamentals are fundamental

Published in the February 2012 Issue Published online: Feb 11, 2012 Jerry Wright, UPGA President/CEO
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Serving in leadership has taught me that successful leadership requires a loyal followership, and a loyal followership is a function of having the follower's trust. This trust happens in two categories: 1) The follower must place trust in the motives and skill of the leader as he is led to a particular destination; and, 2) The follower must place trust in the rewards that will be gained once the hoped-for destination is reached. Note I have said that trust must be placed, because, in the end, each individual follower must make the decision to follow, to buy in.

Potato growers have recently enjoyed unprecedented prosperity. Unfortunately, prosperity often leads to a disorder called selective dementia. WE FORGET WHAT GOT US HERE! Much like an overconfident football player, it's easy to take individual credit for what was really a team effort. The self-possessed player often forgets that the successful team effort that brought him to prominence resulted from each individual on the team keenly executing football's fundamentals: effective blocking and tackling.

Growing potatoes has its fundamentals, too. The fundamental determinant of every crop's economic outcome is supply. Demand is also an important fundamental, but must be treated as a constant because little can be done about it by the grower. To the contrary, the grower entirely controls the supply. Since its founding, United Potato Growers of America's chief obsession and strategy has been to accurately match supply to demand. This begins with an accurate planting recommendation but does not end there.

Just as a football game's intensity increases greatly within the red zone's 20-yard stretch, the potato crop's market intensity increases greatly within the crop transition months of August and September. This crop transition red zone sets the market tone and pricing for much of the crop year.

Growers of colored varieties now manage this treacherous period with great success. Russet growers still have work to do; this past August/September saw the average price of 100 pounds of packaged russet potatoes fall from near $30/cwt to about $15/cwt. Improved coordination between competing regions will preserve more of that value. Timely, accurate and well-communicated data will form the basis of improving that coordination.

Guiding every successful football team is a knowledgeable coach-observer positioned high in the stadium. From that vantage point, he monitors his team's execution of the game's fundamentals. His tactical adjustments, however, will be no better than the clarity of his observations. In guiding potato markets, timely, accurate data is essential. United must never stop improving data streams. Even if acreage is right, the crop transition period still has to be managed, profile issues must be mitigated and each region's production interfaced with that of every other region.

Finally, each grower must assess the cost and reward of United membership. In so doing, the questions become: When was the last time you averaged $3/cwt for your crop? When was the last time you sold process grade for 0.50/cwt? United works-the proof is in the results!