Critic or Doer of Deeds

Published online: Nov 16, 2021 Articles Buzz Shahan, Chief Operating Officer, United Potato Growers of America
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This column appears in the November 2021 issue of Potato Grower.

“The poorest way to face life is to face it with a sneer. There are many men who feel a kind of twisted pride in cynicism; there are many who confine themselves to criticism of the way others do what they themselves dare not even attempt. There is no more unhealthy being, no man less worthy of respect than he who holds an attitude of sneering disbelief toward all that is great and lofty, whether in achievement or in that noble effort which, even if it fails, still comes to some achievement. It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs; who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; who knows great enthusiasms; great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

Teddy Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” speech, quoted above, was given a year after he left office as president and has become one of his most enduring orations—for good reason.

“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly.”

—Teddy Roosevelt

Farmers are in the arena. Farmers are courageous people. Prior to putting a single seed into the soil, they know that the deck could be stacked against them. Knowing that insects, fungi, weather and markets are all waiting to pounce, still they push on. Farmers enlist chemical technology to war on their behalf against insects and fungi. They enlist irrigation technology—where irrigation is available—to war on their behalf against weather’s vagaries. But markets? What about markets? Who do potato farmers turn to for help with that one? The doers turn to market economics. Major corporations fill entire buildings with economists for the same reason. Universities support powerful economic departments for the same reason. It is a rare business that ventures into the marketplace without a well-thought-out market strategy. And you can’t have a consistently successful market strategy without market data, and lots of it.

Fifteen years ago North American potato farmers got together to make economic sense of the potato business’ market aspect. Putting that effort together was not without error and shortcomings, and certainly not without sacrifice. But the proof is in tasting the pudding. Regions and farmers who utilize United’s market data prosper by whole dollars per hundredweight more than those who don’t. That is the reason for printing Roosevelt’s famous speech. It is not just the hundreds of millions of dollars lost to potato producers annually due to market ignorance that matters, though financial stability is important. What appalls is the blind attitude of some that potato market economics don’t matter. What appalls most is the attitude of some that only fools persist in making economic sense of potato markets.

This much is proven: Potato farmers who manage potato markets through economic data prosper more than those who just stand back and sneer.