United Got it Right

Good news-and bad news

Published in the December 2012 Issue Published online: Dec 08, 2012 Jerry P. Wright
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With its inception, United Potato Growers of America assumed the role of disseminating supply/demand information for the fresh-potato industry. An anticipated consequence of assuming such a hefty responsibility was that United would become a target for grower frustration any time fresh-potato market supplies and/or grower returns failed to meet expectations. However, an unanticipated consequence has been that even when process potato segments suffer, they, too, quickly assign responsibility to United. This singling out of United unintentionally makes the point that all segments of the potato industry are interdependent and interconnected.

Certainly, as it relates to projections for the 2012-13 crop production and early markets returns, United got it right. One year ago, United predicted the very market condition that exists today. Had all growers in the potato business been aware of and heeded United's projections, today's market malaise and could have been significantly mitigated. Why not gather every bit of available information about every market segment before finalizing a business plan?

Imagine what could happen if representatives from each segment of the potato industry-including those who invest in the soil and reaching all the way to suppliers of McDonald's, Wendy's, Pringles and Lays-were fully informed about the supply/demand outlook throughout the North American potato industry. And, imagine this group had access to a database that tracked supply and demand for every potato product at every level of production: field to packer, field to processor, packer to retailer and processor to end user. Would such information be useful to the industry, especially to the grower about to invest a significant amount of his farm's equity into the next crop?

Every successful business on the planet follows this approach. They build a production plan based on the best projected demand information available. Any other approach is illogical, and an illogical approach to business portends needless risk.

In this day of hyper communication, we must re-examine Steve Jobs' prophetic quote: "Corporate America [the potato industry] has a need that is so huge and can save them so much money, or make them so much money, or cost them so much money if they miss it, that they are going to fuel the information revolution." What result can those in the potato business expect from precise supply/demand information? Look no further than the last seven years, and you will see both extremes described by Jobs-when processors, packers and growers matched production with demand, all industry segments prospered.

The good news about the potato business is this: the information exists and is available today to help the industry match supplies with projected demand. We don't have to fly blind or make decisions in a vacuum. The bad news is: The North American potato market is changing at an unprecedented pace. Don't be left behind because you are uninformed. With this in mind, United will host the most comprehensive business analysis of the North American potato industry during the opening day of Potato Expo 2013, to be held in Las Vegas, Nev. Everyone is welcome-growers, shippers and processors. There is no registration fee for the first day, Jan. 9. To register, call George Martin at (801) 517-9000.