Two years ago, when the Potato Expo was held in Orlando, Fla., for the first time, temperatures plummeted to the 20s, beginning what became Florida's longest cold stretch in decades.
Fast forward two years later. As potato growers and industry leaders from across the United States and a dozen countries began to gather in sunny Orlando in the infant moments of 2012, they were initially met with feelings of déjà vu. Temperatures were, again, expected to be in the 20s in the evenings-as citrus growers in the state were rushing to either quickly harvest their crops or water them extensively in order to protect their tree fruits from deep frost with a layer of ice.
But still, Potato Expo 2012, held January 5-7, again saw record numbers, with more than 1,500 potato growers and industry leaders in attendance and 130 companies in its sold-out tradeshow.
Potato Expo 2012 represents "who's who" of the North American potato industry, and included 20 breakout sessions featuring experts from the potato industry, agriculture and academic communities. The speakers and panelists informed attendees on the latest advances, research and issues facing the chipping, fresh, process and seed sectors. The general sessions featured some of the most respected authorities in the business, marketing and political fields.
Prior to the kickoff reception for the expo was the United Potato Growers of America-sponsored
Seed Grower Meeting. Following the area reports, United Seed Division Chair Mike Telford posed a question to everyone, asking why the seed industry isn't currently experiencing a train wreck. He pointed out the 2011 spike in seed acreage from 2010. Miraculously, the industry is actually having a better year than even last year because of lower-than-expected yields, but he gave attendees a somber warning.
"That ought to scare us to death," he says, showing audience members the spike. "We missed the bullet."
He points out that lightening isn't going to strike twice.
"If we repeat that and just have normal yields, we're going to have a disaster."
Jerry Wright, who recently returned to United as its CEO, took growers back to the basics of "followership," explaining that once followers trust in the hearts and motives of their leaders and understand the benefits of their sacrifice, then the organization will move forward.
"You can't lead people who don't want to follow," he says.
Then United COO Buzz Shahan lead the group in a brainstorming session to come up with issues to tackle in order to give United a better approach.
Former Continental Airlines CEO Gordon Bethune described to attendees what it took to take his company from worst to first. Addressing the Thursday breakfast and general session audience, he exhorted the audience to "stop doing things that lose money."
"Success is many things, but in business, it means `Does your business beat the competition?' There's no excuse for not showing up with a product. What gets measured and awarded gets done."
During the lunch general session, keynote speaker and former Governor of Florida Jeb Bush presented four issues for the country to address: 1) How to create a patriotic energy security policy; 2) The need for an immigration policy that is faithful to our nation's heritage; 3) The challenge of unshackling U.S. ingenuity and capitalism for future growth and prosperity; and, 4) Transforming our public education system to reward the talents and successes of teachers and students.
The National Potato Council extended awards to several individuals. During a seed break-out meeting, NPC President Justin Dagen awarded the NPC Seed Potato Grower of the Year to Ron Mach of Mach's Sunny Acres in Antigo, Wis.
One of Wisconsin's Century Farms (continuous family ownership for over 100 years), Mach's Sunny Acres in Antigo, Wis., was formed in 1882. Now run by brothers Ron and Ken Mach, the farm raises 465 acres of foundation and certified seed potatoes, field corn, oats, alfalfa and soybeans.
Mach is currently in his second term of service on the Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association Board of Directors, having completed a six-year term from 1990-1995, including stints as board Treasurer and Vice President. He was re-elected to the board in 2008. He is also serving in his second go-round as a Wisconsin representative on the United States Potato Board. He currently serves on the USPB Administrative Committee, while also serving on the International Marketing Committee as well as the Seed Task Force.
Dagen also awarded Dr. Asunta "Susie" Thompson, associate professor of potato breeding at North Dakota State University, this year's NPC Meritorious Service Award.
Having grown up on a potato and small grain seed farm in Barnesville, Minn., Susie later received a bachelor's degree in agronomy from North Dakota State University, an MS in Horticulture and Forestry and a PhD in Plant Science from the University of Idaho. She is currently an associate professor of potato breeding at North Dakota State University in Fargo, N.D.
Potato Expo 2013 will take place at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nev.