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The Center of it All: New NPC President Hails from Colorado

Colorado’s San Luis Valley, wedged between the Sangre de Cristo mountain range on the east and the San Juan Mountains on the west, in the middle of southern Colorado, is one of the largest high desert valleys in the world. The valley is approximately 122 miles long and 74 miles wide with an average altitude elevation of over 7,500 feet, and runs from Colorado into New Mexico.

The region is rich in history. Before the Spanish conquest, the Ute Indians called the area home until 1895 when they were forced to emigrate. The northern route of the Old Spanish Trail passes through the valley. Heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey was born in Manassa, in the valley.

It is here in this fertile high desert where Roger Mix and his family are continuing a four-generation tradition of potato farming in Colorado. It all began with George Mix and a homestead in Kansas but it wasn’t long before George pulled and moved to Colorado Springs.

Roger’s grandfather, Willard, moved further west and south into the San Luis Valley, where for three generations now the Mix family has been farming.

Here in Center, Colorado, Roger and Rosalie Mix and their two teenage sons, Ryan, 16, and Michael, 13, are keeping the Mix Farms tradition alive and well and perhaps into a fifth generation.

“We’ve been around since the days when they used to sack them up in burlap bags out in the field,” said Roger Mix.

Mix, 44, with the help of his 71-year old father, Sherrell, and one full-time employee, farms between 720 to 750 acres. They plant in a two-year rotation between potatoes and malt barley for Coors.

Mix said that his father lends a hand when necessary but these days he relys on his father in more of an advisory role.

These days Roger Mix is not only shouldering the tradition of Mix Farms but he has taken on the additional responsibilities as the President of the National Potato Council for 2010. He was elected during the National Potato Conference in Orlando in January.

For the previous three years Mix had been the vice president of environmental affairs with the NPC.

Mix is a strong advocate for all the potato organizations, NPC, USGA, USDP, and others, he sees a strength in numbers working for potato growers in these organizations.

“It’s a support network, the national issues that the Pot Council is facing, when you stay in a big group instead of getting singled out as individual states or as growers you can get more done that way,” Mix said.

“I think there’s only roughly 2,500 potato growers and ag is secondary to a lot of people’s thoughts,” Mix said,. “They don’t know where their food is coming from so if you have a strong membership and you go to DC or even at the local level, if you voice your concerns we’ve been able to get a lot done with agencies whether it’s at the local lever or even at the national level they got to hear you. There’s a strength in numbers,” said Mix.

John Keeling, the NPC’s Executive President and CEO, said that Roger Mix is bringing a lot of experience to the job.

“This a role that he didn’t just walk in to. He’s a strong believer in a national organization like NPC,” said Keeling.

One of Mix’s top priorities this year is opening up the Mexican market, eliminating the onerous 20 percent tariff on process potatoes and the 26 kilometer zone that U.S. trucks are allowed to enter in Mexico.

“We’ve got two issues there,” Mix said. “Opening up the Mexican market and last year we had a pilot program established under the appropriations to work on this Mexican trucking issue. Well with this administration they dropped that pilot program and that’s when Mexico put tariffs n basically frozen produce. Frozen potato product going into Mexico. We’re working on those two issues, not just the Mexican market but the Mexican trucking issue.”

Mix sees an opportunity to resolve both issues based on President Obama’s recent State of the Union address.

“I think with President Obama’s comment on doubling exports, this is the time to push on this,” Mix said. “And get our administration, our Representatives, our Senators behind us to do this. Hopefully, we’ll get something started here soon because with our production in the U.S. being higher than what we thought it was going to be. That would be a good outlet for potato product.”

Mix said that it’s tough to predict a timeline on when the growers and shippers might see some bi-lateral results.

“Hopefully, it’s quicker rather than later,” he said.

Keeling said Mix “brings a real world knowledge why getting fresh potatoes to Mexico is so important.”

A secondary project he wants to see brought to completion is the data collection project started by Don Sklaznick two or three years ago. Mix said it’s an effort to get grower involvement in a working list, and a more accurate list, of what growers are using in the fields and in storage and take it to the EPA.

“Then we have a good system of what is being used by the growers, it’s not hearsay, it’s going to be accurate information so we can go to the EPA with valid information that would help us in the registration of chemicals and reregistratoin and looking possibly at new compounds,” Mix said.

“I think that will be a really good data source that will work for the EPA, so they know what compounds we’re using and the rates in the different growing areas,” Mix said.

For 2010 Roger said they would be planting two circles in potatoes and four circles in malt barley.

"The Yukon Golds, I’ve been into for 10 or 12 years now. The Canela Russet we just started the last couple years. The Rio Grande Russets we’ve been growing for 4 or 5 years. It’s a good storage, nice looking, good taste, dual purpose potato and then the Purple Majesties, the last 3 to 4 years. That’s a specialty and its got its own niche,” Mix said.

He grew Norkotahs for a time but their susceptibility to PVY forced him to drop the variety.

Mix earned a degree in agronomy at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. Following that he moved west to California doing research work for the USDA’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service.

Roger and Rosalie moved back to the San Luis Valley to return to the farming lifestyle that he had grown up in and to the environment they wanted to raise their children.

“It’s the rural life, the livelihood,” Roger said about their move back to Center. “When you grow up on a farm, it’s different then growing up in an urban area. You’re out in the production part of it. The schools were smaller and the kids were able to have closer friendships.”

Mix also savors the independent lifestyle of farming.

“You’re your own boss and you have to make the decisions and if it doesn’t get done right it’s basically on your back. We make decisions. Between my dad and myself. I make the decisions and go through with it and see how it comes out,” Mix said.

Originally posted Monday, Apr. 26, 2010

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