Paying It Forward
Carl Hoverson wants to give back to the industry that has given him so much during a lifetime spent growing potatoes.
Hoverson, of Larimore, North Dakota, was elected United States Potato board (USPB) chairman for 2015-16 during the USPB annual meeting this past March in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He succeeds Brett Jensen as chairman.
Potatoes have been good to me and good to this area (North Dakota) and I want to give back to the industry,” Hoverson said in describing his primary reason to seek the USPB chairmanship. “I just think that the potato guys involved in it are all some of the best people. It’s been fun and I just want to give back at this point.”
Hoverson started farming on his own in 1976. He was a third-year engineering student at the University of North Dakota when his father died and he left school to take over the farm.
“I was 20 years old and doing it all,” he said, ” learning lessons the hard way at first.”
There were some tough times, following his father’s death, when he first set out on his own, Hoverson said.
“We had drought and then we had high interest rates, the weather wasn’t the best, from ’80 to ’84. Those were some really tough years,” he said.
In spite of the hard times he’s been able to grow the farm from 1,400 acres in 1976 to 32,000 acres today.
He started growing potatoes in 1982 with 40 acres of chip stock. He also grew a few acres of red potatoes for table stock and in 1984 he started growing processing potatoes.
Today, he and his sons Mike and Casey plant about 5,500 acres annually in potatoes with corn and soybeans as the rotational crops. They grow predominantly Umatillas and Russet Burbanks for a J.R. Simplot processing plant 27 miles down the road from their farm. They also grow a limited supply of chipping potatoes for a small, local market, Hoverson said.
“My whole world is potatoes,” he said. “That’s all I do, 365 days a year I’m in potatoes. Personally, I think it’s the most interesting crop. They’re so universal. It’s just in our blood, my grandfathers raised them. A lot of people in the valley raise them.”
Hoverson spoke about his role as USPB chairman and on the importance of teamwork and the combined strengths of everyone in the U.S. potato industry to help propel it into a financially secure future.
“I think that as a team, all the ideas we have among all the growers should be collected as a group,” he said. “We need to get more input from all those growers because every idea is truly a good idea. We sometimes come up with new opinions and new directions that we didn’t think of before.”
He believes that the U.S. potato industry should find better ways to expand export markets.
“For the future of potatoes we need and want exports because that’s going to make our industry stronger,” Hoverson said. “I want to focus on international and I certainly want to focus on opening as many new markets as possible.”
The loss of export markets along the Pacific Rim during the recent West Coast port slowdown will require a concerted effort by the USPB and industry partners, he said.
“We need to get in there as much as possible and try to regain, maintain and expand those markets,” Hoverson said.
On the domestic market he wants to continue to emphasize the news that potatoes are healthy and nutritious. At the same time he said that the industry needs to find ways to appeal to new consumers who want quick and easy ways to prepare healthy meals.
Hoverson said that the potato-friendly salad bar program was a great way to introduce potatoes to the next generation of consumers.
“If we can get the young people used to eating different types of potato products, that builds a lifetime of using them,” he said.