May/June 2014
Getting It Done By Bill Schaefer

A desire to follow the money took Brett Jensen, 43, of Idaho Falls, on a path that led to his 2014 election as chairman of the U.S. Potato Board (USPB) this spring.

Curious to find out how his check-off money was being spent by the USPB, the Idaho grower applied for nomination to the USPB in 2008.

Joining the board in 2009, as a member of the international marketing committee, he found that not only is the check-off money being used wisely, but there’s a lot of hard work and long hours that goes into promoting the potato industry.

It’s an experience that he encourages other growers to participate in. People need to get involved … to see where their check-off goes (and) how many hours and time and money it takes to grow and maintain the markets we have. That’s been the biggest impression I’ve seen.

“Learning what I did has been very good for me, it’s been very positive,” he said.

Prior to his election as chairman, Jensen has served on three committees; international marketing, domestic marketing and industry communications and policy.

Jensen described his time on the international marketing committee as a great experience and a revelation at the current and future markets available for the entire U.S. industry.

“The amount of international markets available that are being opened, will be opened and have been opened for the potato — all aspects of the potato — the dehy, the frozen, the fresh. It was an eye opener to see the potential that’s out there for the U.S. potato,” he said.

With the recent announcement that the U.S. and Mexico have reached an agreement to allow importation of Mexico potatoes into the U.S. and U.S. potatoes beyond the 26- kilometer zone in Mexico the potential for expanded trade with international markets looms ever larger.

“I just think it’s a very exciting thing for the U.S. potato industry and I really want to thank the UPSB and the National Potato Council for the work they’ve done,” Jensen said about the Mexico accord.

“We want to be very diligent and do it right so it’s a win-win for both countries,” he said.

Jensen is a third-generation Idaho potato grower based in Bonneville County, just like his father, Wayne, and his grandfather, Andy, before him.

Growing potatoes is not so much a job as it is a part of his DNA.

“There was never any doubt in my mind that I would be a potato farmer,” Jensen said describing his desire and motivation for a career in agriculture.

From his father he learned the intricacies of the Idaho potato industry and the importance of grower organizations while growing up in Idaho Falls. These were lessons he took to heart when he began farming in 1995 after graduating from Utah State University with a degree in business accounting.

“I grew up on a potato farm,” Jensen said. “My dad was always active in the organizations. The whole time I was growing up he was involved in Potato Growers of Idaho and the United States Potato Board. I realized it was important and that was a good example for me.”

Growing up in Idaho Falls, Jensen learned the importance of teamwork as a small forward on Skyline High School’s 1989 5A state championship team. From his coach, Jim Lewis, Jensen said he learned the importance of discipline to better yourself and the rewards that come from working together to reach a team goal.

They are lessons that have become part of his work philosophy.

“To win at anything you have to have a team around you. You can’t do it alone,” Jensen said. “I learned how to be very disciplined from Coach Lewis., I learned a lot from him.”

Jensen’s own farming operation, Brett Jensen Farms, has grown from a small start-up with 35 acres of potatoes and 100 acres of grain in 1994 into one of about 6,500 acres with six full-time employees and 20 to 40 seasonal workers during planting and harvest.

He grows Russet Burbanks and Ranger Russets, mostly for the fresh market but some go to the Idahoan Foods plant for dehy. He also grows malt barley, seed barley, wheat and hay.

“Humbling and challenging,” is how he described the beginning years of farming but with the support of his wife, Kristy, they’ve created a successful farming operation and a family of five children: Jace, 18; Rylee, 15; Brayden, 12; Karsen, 10; and Bella, 4.

It is his children, the fourth generation of Idaho potato growers, and the future of the potato industry that motivates Jensen’s involvement in the USPB.

“Honestly, the motivation for me is to help the industry that my kids will eventually benefit from,” Jensen said. “If we can help and protect the industry that we’re in right now to pass it on to the next generation.”

He’s a man who believes that actions speak louder than words, a trait he believes has served him well in farming and in his time at the USPB.

“If it needs to get done, let’s get it done. Just do it and be done with it and go on,” Jensen said of his work philosophy.

“Anyone that runs their own business, if you don’t have that attitude it’s probably going to be a lot harder to succeed,” he said.

As he begins his year as USPB chairman, Jensen sees great potential for potato growers in the years ahead, but he wants to see growers become more involved in the industry.

“I think there’s a bright future for potato growers, if we can keep supply and demand in check,” Jensen said. “The days for the grower to sit on the sidelines are past. I think the more involvement the growers have, the better and brighter the future is.”

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