A Cohesive Team Effort

Monty Smith of Blanca, Colo

Published in the March 2012 Issue Published online: Mar 05, 2012 Story by David Fairbourn
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International Marketing Co-Chairman Monty SmithMonty Smith is completing his fifth year on the United States Potato Board, and second year as a co-chairman of the International Marketing Committee-a program he staunchly supports and effectively advocates. During his two years as a USPB International Marketing Co-Chairman, he has successfully represented the U.S. potato industry in "maximizing return on grower investment" through an integrated marketing program to increase the demand for U.S. potatoes and potato products.

Increasing Demand

In fulfilling his leadership role, Smith is quick to recognize the efforts of fellow USPB Executive Committee Members, USPB Administrative Committee Members, the USPB staff and all the leaders from each state and national organization who are equally committed to and invested in the USPB's mission-to increase demand for potatoes and potato products through an integrated promotion program, thereby providing U.S. producers with expanding markets for their production.

"Ninety-six percent of the world's population lies outside the United States, and the future of the U.S. potato industry is dependent on successfully exporting to foreign markets," Smith said. "In November 2010, I traveled to Malaysia and Indonesia on a trade mission with the USPB. We put on `All About U.S. Table-Stock Potatoes' seminars at the Sheraton Imperial Hotel in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and the Four Seasons Hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia. These were attended by nearly 100 chefs, importers, retailers and foodservice representatives.

"The hotels sponsoring these events did an excellent job. They prominently displayed U.S. potatoes throughout their lobbies, entryways and hallways. As a USPB board member and table-stock grower from Colorado's San Luis Valley, this was an amazing experience for me. My eyes were opened to the realization of just how interested people from these Pacific Rim nations are in U.S. potatoes. Traditionally, potatoes are not a staple in their diets, and were not previously found on menus in their restaurants.

"But as national economies develop and the incomes of citizens increase, they have the means and desire to try different food products from other countries, and these products include U.S. potatoes."

Exports of U.S. fresh potatoes to Malaysia almost doubled during market year (MY) 2011. Smith emphasizes these kinds of successes come from a team effort. As state organizations, the National Potato Council (NPC), the USPB, its staff and U.S. producers work together cohesively, the U.S. potato industry attains mutually beneficial results in the development of world markets. Cooperative efforts increase demand for U.S. potatoes domestically and internationally.

Three S Ranch

Smith is Vice President for Three S Ranch, Inc., and manages the crop and potato production on his family's farm near Blanca, Colo. He is also a part-owner of Blanca Potato, LLC, a local potato-packing business.

"Our farm was originally a cattle ranch that also produced hay and grain," Smith says. "In 1971, my father, Jerry Smith, and grandfather, Walter Smith diversified, adding potatoes and eventually sold off the cattle herd in 2003. We rotate Coors Malt Barley, alfalfa hay and wheat in our farming operation.

"In 1980, the local IHC Equipment Dealership Manager, Rodger Wakasugi, bought my grandfather's share in Three S Ranch and Blanca Potato, and his son, Cole Wakasugi, is a partner in both businesses. Local growers have also purchased a part ownership in Blanca Potato.

"Today, my cousin Rodney Smith manages the packing and shipping facilities at Blanca Potato, and my father Jerry is the CEO." Jerry Smith is a past USPB Chairman. He served in this role during 1995-96.

At Three S Ranch, several varieties of Norkotah Russet, along with Canela, Rio Grande, Centennial and Classic Russet are produced. All potato production is marketed through Blanca Potato as fresh table-stock. Blanca is a supplier for Farm Fresh Direct, LLC, which was formed in 1999 by a group of third- and fourth-generation potato growers in Colorado's San Luis Valley.

"Walmart is our primary customer, and our fresh potatoes supply many regions across the country," Smith said. "For 2011, we're supplying distribution centers in Georgia, Oklahoma and Missouri. Our potatoes also supply Kroger, Costco and other major retailers doing business with Farm Fresh Direct.

"We also have some foodservice business, but we're primarily a retail supplier. Farm Fresh Direct CEO and President Jim Knutzon runs the marketing."

Spanning 8,000 square miles, the San Luis Valley is the world's largest alpine valley. Hot days and cool nights provide excellent conditions for russet potato production, and the dry desert climate makes the threat of late blight almost non-existent. With an average altitude of 7,500 feet, there is very little pressure from potato pests and disease. Potato production was established during the late 1800s, and the San Luis Valley has held a federal marketing order since 1941.

Team Effort

On Three S Ranch, Smith, his father, family, friends and business partners work together as a cohesive team, focused on mutually beneficial goals. Similar to his farm management style, he accentuates the importance of the USPB working with the U.S. industry, state and national organizations in achieving common objectives for growth and development.

"I want to emphasize the importance of the team approach-the USPB and staff working together for the collective interest of the U.S. industry," Smith says. "On the Executive Committee, it's nice to be part of directing the goals and strategies, but it's the USPB staff in each department who keeps all of the industry's marketing and demand building programs moving forward.

"I attended the 2011 USPB Seed Symposium in Denver recently, and this was an excellent event. This year's seed symposium included buyers from Brazil, Burkina Faso, Mauritius, Sri Lanka, Nicaragua, Egypt, Uruguay, Honduras and the Dominican Republic and U.S. growers and industry experts."

This symposium was a full-day event, and included presentations on U.S. potato varieties, seed cutting, exporting, seed certification and target market industry updates. It provided an educational session for international participants to learn more about the U.S. industry and quality U.S. seed potatoes. This event also provided U.S. growers with insight into each of the international market's potato industry and seed requirements.

Smith places importance on the industry being informed and aware of how the USPB's work improves the business environment of potatoes for all production sectors.

"I think it's important for all U.S. growers to know how our efforts are being carried out," he says. "Our industry is getting a good return on investment, and the programs are in place. We are producing results for each production sector. This makes it easy for me to relate the successes of the USPB."

The USPB International Marketing Program promotes U.S. frozen, dehy, fresh and seed potatoes in over 20 targeted markets in Asia, Latin America and Africa. For more information, and to see the complete "USPB International Marketing Program for Fiscal Years 2012-2016," visit PotatoGrower.com, click on "Extras."