Grower Leader Retires
Bob Bartlett, a potato industry leader from Littleton, Maine, recently completed six years as a leader of the U.S. Potato Board (USPB). At the organization’s 2004 Annual Meeting in Denver, he retired his seat to new Maine grower representatives, but the work he did to improve the environment for U.S. potatoes on local, national and international levels continues to grow.
During the meeting he said it was time to let the younger generation take care of things on the board, and he said he has confidence they will do a good job. One of the growers he refers to is Brent Buck of Chapman, Maine, who considers Bartlett a mentor.
Buck said that because Bartlett is such a strong supporter of agriculture, his decisions are based upon what is good for the industry.
It’s very encouraging to see how many people admire and respect this modest seed grower from northwest Maine. Bob is a great inspiration,” Buck said. “He’s shown us how to be involved. He’s always flown way above the bar, gotten involved and done things to help the industry as a whole. He’s left some really big shoes to fill.”
Bartlett was one of the charter members of the USPB International Seed Task Force, a program developed in 1997 to pioneer new markets for U.S. potato seed. He served on several U.S. delegations that traveled to Latin America on exploratory missions to initiate negotiations that would later open the door for U.S. seed potato trials. He also participated in the 2000 World Potato Congress held in Holland.
“It’s great to see the success the international group has had,” Bartlett said. “You see it with the commercial sales in Uruguay and all the variety trials that we are doing throughout Latin America. There is a lot of potential for U.S. seed. In time, we will have a good seed export business.”
In 1998Bartlettwas nominated to represent Maine on the USPB. He spent his first two years as an active International Marketing committee member. In 2000 he was elected to the Executive Committee and served as chairman for the policy and management committee. He spent his last two years as the chairman of industry outreach helping to develop ways to increase industry understanding of and participation in the board’s programs.
“It’s been a real pleasure working with Bob,” said DeeAnn Amstad, the 2002 USPB chairwoman. “He was right there when we initiated the international seed program, and he stuck with it. He’s rock solid, a strong supporter of the Board and always a steady voice of reason.”
When Bartlett reflected on his last year, he said how impressed he was with the work done to create and execute the current Healthy Potato campaign.
“The staff and executive committee really made it happen. They were on a mission,” he said.
He said when board members got their fellow potato farmers to participate in the campaign, the industry would see some real change.
Bartlett said that farming is in his blood. He said although his grandfather and father both grew a few acres of potatoes each year, they still held jobs off the farm. This gave Bartlett the inspiration to start his own farm.
In 1958, when Bartlett was still a senior in high school, he convinced a local businessman to finance his endeavor of planting 40 acres of potatoes.
“I didn’t have a dime in my pocket,” Bartlett said. “I just knew I wanted to farm. So with a couple worn out old trucks and tractors, I grew, harvested and sold 40 acres of potatoes. And yes, I still graduated high school on time that year.”
Today, Bartlett and his son, David, own Bartlett Farms. They grow, pack and ship seed potatoes. They grow 250 acres of seed potatoes, 250 acres of rotation crops and 100 acres of hay and pasture. Additionally, they have a herd of beef cattle and a small feed lot.
Bartlett and his wife, Jane, have been married eight years. He has five children David, Janet, Jennifer, Heather and Angela and he said he is proud of his 19 grandchildren. Bartlett was the 1994 President of the Maine Potato Board, and he continues to serve on the education committee. He was presented the National Potato Council’s Seed Grower of the Year Award in 2000.