Potatoes USA Chairman Shares Vision for Industry’s Future
Tucked in the Bootheel region of Missouri, Black Gold Farms COO John Halverson continues to carve out an expanding potato production and service operation near Arbyrd. During the past four years, Black Gold Farms has added another 300 acres of red potatoes, but chip- stock production remains the lion’s share of the operation.
At the 2017 Potatoes USA annual meeting, Halverson was nominated as chairman. He has been a board member of Potatoes USA, formerly known as the United States Potato Board, since March 2012, representing Missouri.
“I have a passion for potatoes,” Halverson said. “It is what my family has done for generations, and we all love it with a passion. My brother, Eric, and sister, Leah, and I are fourth generation farmers in our business, which dates back to 1928 in the Red River Valley of North Dakota.”
From its beginning, Black Gold Farms has been a family business with core values focused on building communities and celebrating the advancement of agriculture. While their farm business is constantly growing and changing, Halverson said these priorities won’t change.
Each year, the Black Gold Farms organization holds its Black Gold Connect company event in Grand Forks, North Dakota. One of the highlights of this meeting is an informal competition among the separate national farm locations to depict their community outreach projects with photos and videography.
“One of these projects was a golf tournament sponsored by our farm team in Rhodesdale, Maryland,” Halverson said. “The proceeds from this golf tournament were donated to a local food bank. We’re dedicated partners to our employees, land partners, vendors and customers. The communities where we live and work are our backbone.”
Halverson takes this level of commitment and involvement to his role as Potatoes USA chairman. He notes there has been a lot of changes in the board, but the work is beginning to bear fruit.
“I’m amazed at the far-reaching effort of the board’s international marketing programs,” he said. “My eyes have been opened. I don’t think too many growers are that aware of everything Potatoes USA has going on. This helps me to understand how the U.S. is only a small population in the world. We are very good at producing food here, at a reasonable price point, that can be made readily accessible.
“Domestically, we are starting to find our way. There have been some obvious challenges, in the fresh world. Potatoes USA’s programs are more focused, putting more dollars into the foodservice sector as consumers have changed the way they’re consuming potatoes, and the foodservice category continues to grow.”
Over the past year, the Alliance for Potato Research and Education (APRE) program has also been rolled into the Potatoes USA organization. This enables increased board oversight and Halverson said this is working well.
Another program Halverson mentioned is the Potato Research Advisory Committee (PRAC) that Potatoes USA developed to help organize research priorities. In June, the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture awarded a $264,600 grant to Colorado State University to develop management of dickeya on potatoes, and a $294,000 grant to Oregon State University for improved management of potato early dying in the Northwest.
“PRAC is helping to coordinate our research efforts, we’re rallying the potato research community around projects that help the industry, and the focused energies are becoming successful,” Halverson said.
At its March 2017 annual meeting, Potatoes USA introduced a potatoes and performance program, designed to spread the message about how potatoes fit into the diets of high performing athletes. Halverson believes this will produce results with the rest of the population as the performance focus is woven into Potatoes USA programs for foodservice, ingredients and retail.
“This potatoes and performance platform has a lot of upside,” Halverson said. “We’ve already seen some anecdotal things that Potatoes USA is not really responsible for in the nutritional and health community with respect to the body’s health and performance and potatoes can influence that in a positive way — for example, the NBA players eating potato chips on the sidelines, because they give you a needed boost to perform.
“I think that whole platform that we’ve launched has great potential, and I’d like to think that three, four, five or six years down the road potatoes have a place in that space, being renowned for power and performance. I think if we can get the message in the right place, that will hold the key to something that is visible.”
— David Fairbourn, contributing writer