This spring I was driving east toward Driggs to attend a wedding. The drive was beautiful, with field after field of small grains and emerging potatoes. As I drove into high elevation, the grain was smaller and the potatoes had not yet made it up. I was so smitten by the sight of the straight, dark ridges of dirt I pulled over and took a photo. I’ve reflected recently why the sight of empty potato field made such an impact on me.
At first glance, it appears to be a bare field with nothing going on. The opposite is true. Just below the surface, the mother seed is pushing shoots skyward and sending an army of roots every direction in search of food and water. There are unseen trillions of microscopic life forms in the soil, working feverishly making everything work the way it should.
Our potato industry is a lot like that bare field. To someone outside our industry, it may seem like a stale, boring, same-old business.
One of my co-workers loves to watch baseball. I ask him how he can stand to watch it for hours when nothing is going on. He says, “It’s the only game that when nothing is going on, a lot’s going on.”
Our industry is like that. It is so complex, and there are always exciting things going on, while the regular day-to-day business is grinding away. We need every segment of our industry to be healthy to be successful, even the unseen segments of the industry. I’m talking about a wide, diverse group of companies from packing people to equipment people, chemicals, transportation, inspectors, general laborers, salespeople, management, commissions, boards, fryers, processors and so on.
Perhaps the truly invisible part of our industry that is so vital is the consumer. There are thousands of foods people have to choose from, and we are grateful for the millions who choose to make the potato what they want to eat. Too often we bemoan the fact that fresh potato use is not rising and may even be falling. Let’s not focus on the small percent going elsewhere, let’s celebrate and thank those who love potatoes. Restaurants that feature potatoes in various forms on their menus deserve a big thank you. If we are at a food show, let’s truly thank people for choosing Idaho potatoes. We need to get behind any effort to promote the potato.
The grower too often is invisible. We as an industry need to feature the grower. There is no better promotion than spotlighting the men, women and families working the farms generating food, jobs and strong communities. That is one feature in Potato Grower magazine. I really enjoy the stories about the growers and their families. It would be great if more growers could attend the convention.
Even though as shippers we are competitors, I love how we wish each other no ill will and are willing to help each other. I’ll bet that every day one shed is asking for help from a neighbor for this, that or the other. Every day a shed is helping another. It is an unusual form of competition, but I think it’s really cool we would all choose to be helpful rather than petty or indifferent. I hope this spirit of cooperative competition will always be part of our industry. This is another little unseen feature that makes us unique and strong.
For 85 years, the Idaho Grower Shipper convention at Sun Valley allows us to put the potato industry in bright lights, and show off what we are all about. This year we have proved again our resiliency. As we gear up for the 2013 crop, we need to work together to make it profitable for everyone.
On behalf of the IGSA board, I would like to invite everyone to Sun Valley. We have great classes to add to your bottom line. Speakers from around the world will inspire us and change our lives. There will be wonderful food, fun and scenery not available anywhere else in the state. I have even heard rumors of a very nice golf course. It is a great chance to shake hands with people we usually only get to speak with over the phone.
I would like to thank the current and past board members of the IGSA along with our current and past presidents. Your service has been remarkable. Mark Klompien is exceeding all expectations and has done a marvelous job as president. Our organization truly provides a great service to the potato industry.
IGSA is small in funding, small in staff, but huge in results. As members of IGSA, a very, very small financial commitment gives you huge representation in the industry. The IGSA is another example of being invisible but extremely effective.
Thinking back to the image of the bare potato field, I love what it represents. The land and the potatoes are indeed the heart of Idaho. Nothing is more exciting than what might be.