Second generation stepping into leadership at one of Idahos largest fresh grower-shippers
There’s a change at the helm of Wada Farms, but the direction of one of Idaho’s largest fresh potato producers will be to stay the course, said Bryan Wada, the new president of the multi-tiered company based in Pingree, Idaho.
The oldest son of former president Albert Wada, Bryan, 35, a graduate of Snake River High School and Pepperdine University with a bachelor’s degree in business administration, recently replaced his father as the president of the company.
Under Albert Wada’s leadership the enterprise grew from a 400-acre farm in 1970 to a conglomerate that grows crops on more than 28,000 acres, operates a 140,000 square foot fresh potato packaging plant, a trucking fleet and a fresh potato and onion sales marketing group.
Wada Farms is a privately held business that employs more than 250 full-time employees in its four divisions and another 200 part-time employees during harvest and seasonal activities.
Bryan Wada said the change in leadership reflects his father’s desire to begin the evolution of management while still retaining an active role in the company.
He is still the chairman of our board,” Wada said. “I’m the president and really, in essence, that hasn’t changed that much for us nor has it changed much in our overall structure.”
“He’s still the driving force behind the company. He’s still the most passionate, the most aggressive, the most skilled person we got. We’re always going to be glad to have him,” Wada said. “He is the company patriarch. You know as long as he is around he will always be the boss, which is the way it should be. We’re glad to have that guidance.”
Wada is humble when he talks about the company, just another way he takes after his dad.
“I don’t know if we are successful or not,” he said. “We just try to keep plugging away with a level of speed and execution every day. Hopefully we make the right choices, more often than not we probably don’t.”
And if they are successful, Wada contributes the success of Wada Farms to its employees.
“If Wada Farms has any level of success it isn’t because of anyone with the last name of Wada. It is because we have excellent people that are all very skilled, very capable. They are the reason why Wada Farms will ultimately be successful, not us,” Wada said.
With an annual average planting of 11,000 acres of potatoes, Wada Farms is one of Idaho’s largest fresh market producers. In the past it was easy to rationalize planting more acres of potatoes to achieve an economy of scale through utilization of fixed costs and equipment.
These days, with the variable cost component of growing potatoes increasing combined with the decreasing consumption of potatoes Wada is a firm advocate for reducing acreage planted to increase profitability by focusing on efficiencies and quality of product.
“As it stands now, having a big pile of potatoes doesn’t really do you a lot of good. The risk associated with the cost of production is so great that even being wrong a little bit could literally be devastating to your economic well-being,” Wada said.
So it should come as no surprise that Wada continues to be a vocal advocate for the United Potato Growers of Idaho and United Potato Growers of America organizations his father helped found.
He views support of the United cooperative as not only necessary for the health of the industry, but for the continued existence of Wada Farms.
“If this potato industry, both in Idaho and nationally, devolves down into who can offer the cheapest product, than that is a game no one will win. It is an unsustainable program,” Wada said.
“It makes so much more sense it gives such a higher value to the U.S. potato grower to have everyone working together as opposed to each individual state, each individual group within each state, just gunning for each other. The only thing that is going to save the potato farmer is to take the focus away from price and to shift it towards consumption, to shift it towards quality and consumer satisfaction,” he said.”