One Industry, One Goal

Published online: May 08, 2021 Articles Buzz Shahan, Chief Operating Officer, United Potato Growers of America
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This column appears in the May 2021 issue of Potato Grower.

Henry Ford: “Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.”

Slice and dice potato production however you like, it remains a business, nothing else. As with any business, its primary goal is to make a profit for its owner commensurate with investment. While industry aspects of potato packing, sales and processing take exceptionally good care of themselves, the same cannot always be said of producers. Since producers lie at the bottom of the economic heap, and since producers accept total risk for weather’s vagaries, plant-pathogen attacks, and market misfortune, and since producers make it all happen in the first place, one would think that producers would shore up their tenuous position in every possible way. While some producing regions have followed Henry Ford’s admonition of coming together, some having reached success and beyond, others have not.

Henry Ford produced cars. He began with the Model A in 1903 and switched to the Model T in 1908. Between 1903 and 1908, Ford innovated mass production. The Model T was the result, specifically designed with production efficiency in mind. Henry’s first Model T sold for about $1,200. Five years later, Ford’s production innovations had lowered the price to just over $600. Ford sold a total of 15 million Model Ts, a remarkable feat even today. While Henry Ford was a remarkable innovator, most importantly he was a market realist. He knew that if he produced cars more efficiently than anyone else, and no one came close, he would succeed. That was his market strategy, and it worked. As a potato producer, where in your business plan do you find the market data upon which to build your production strategy? If you don’t use market data for your production strategy, what data do you use?

The fortunate thing about the potato production business is that its consumer base loves and wants its product. When the global pandemic hit, the first item off grocery shelves was toilet paper, followed closely by potatoes. Toilet paper stands alone in its category, while potatoes face competition from every aisle in the grocery store. With all of that to choose from, why the potato? Because consumers love it, trust it and can afford it, always. With such endorsement, why don’t potato producers come together everywhere to support a business model that consistently performs on their behalf?

Where certain producers of America’s favorite vegetable have come together the results are stunning. This has happened because they include national potato supply data in their planning. The trick is having access to it. United Potato Growers of America’s comprehensive database answers that question in exquisite detail for every potato producer who wants it.

Like Henry Ford, North American potato producers have mastered production. Name a vegetable category that can compete in terms of nutritional value per consumer dollar. You can’t. You can, however, name countless vegetables that consistently remunerate their producers with strong financial positions. Potato production does the same for certain producers and not for others. The difference is simple: Consistently profitable producers have access to vital market data, and they utilize it.