February 2021
Spudman announces potato industry Dream Team 2021 By Zeke Jennings

Six-time Super Bowl winning coach Bill Belichick has a mantra: “Do your job.” Every player on the field has a responsibility and if each person executes theirs, the team will be successful.

That’s the idea of Spudman’s Dream Team awards program sponsored by Yara North America, which is back for its second year. Potato production is filled with different roles and responsibilities, and there are individuals doing them outstandingly throughout the industry. Our goal is to find and recognize them.

We have another group of outstanding potato all-stars this year. Also, we’ve added a Rookie of the Year honor to recognize someone who is stepping up in new ways.

“Yara is proud to continue to sponsor the Spudman Dream Team and Rookie of the Year awards,” said Jimmy Ridgway, an Idaho-based regional manager at Yara. “Our recipients this year, from farmers to logistics personnel to researchers, represent a well-rounded group of folks who are exceptional in their roles in the potato industry. We look forward to our continued collaboration with Spudman on presenting these awards.”

Thanks to all who nominated. Just because your nominee maybe didn’t make the team this year, please nominate them again next year. Now, let’s meet the team! (For a video awards presentation, see the bottom of this page.)

Beau Hartline

Beau Hartline is one of the many field generals of potato production as the field manager at Alsum Farms & Produce, one of the Midwest’s biggest potato growers, a role he’s held for five years. 

Beau Hartline

Larry Alsum, CEO of the operation, said Beau’s standout characteristics are his savvy ability at making the right technology application for the given situation, which comes from a balance of instinct and experience.

“Beau is hard working, intelligent and dedicated to getting the job done working with our farm team,” Alsum said. “He has a strong agriculture background and is great at technology applications. … Beau uses a great balance of facts, common sense and a positive attitude to make decisions for our farm operation.”

Hartline likes to have fun on the job, adding that the people in the potato industry make that easy.

“Farmers are some of the truest and hardest-working people you’re ever going to meet,” Hartline said. “It makes it a joy to come to work when you work with people like that.”

Look for more on Hartline in episode 10 of “The Potato Field with Spudman” podcast.

Chad Hutchinson

As the global director of potato research and market support for TriCal Group, Hutchinson is a master of soil health, crop nutrition and disease suppression. He is one of the industry’s leaders in research of chloropicrin. Hutchinson isn’t shy about sharing his research to aid others, as he is often a speaker at potato-related educational opportunities, like Potato Expo.

Chad Hutchinson

Before joining TriCal in 2009, Hutchinson was a University of Florida Extension potato specialist and associate professor for 10 years. His colleagues say his research prowess coupled with a history of teaching is a perfect match for finding new data and sharing it in a meaningful way.

He has worked with potato producers around the world on topics ranging from variety selection, crop nutrition, soil health and soil disease suppression. His passion is helping potato farmers be successful,” said Jena Francis, TriCal Director of Marketing and Public Relations. “He is recognized by his peers for his knowledge of crop production and soil fumigation practices and their influence on potato crop yield and quality. Anyone could call Chad at any time with any question related to potatoes and soil health and he would jump on the opportunity to help. If he didn’t have the answer, he would find someone who did, or try to find a way to conduct a trial to get information.”

Hutchinson penned an article in Spudman on his research on Strike, a chloropicrin-based fumigant, can improve potato yields. He also has a blog at strikefumigants.com/the-dirt/.

Sastry Jayanty

Sastry Jayanty, Ph.D., is one of the industry’s all-stars when it comes to postharvest research. As a postharvest physiologist at Colorado State University’s San Luis Valley Research Center, Jayanty’s extensive work in maximizing potatoes in storage, including on shrinking and pressure bruise, have helped growers around the world avoid countless dollar losses. He also has contributed to the development of nine new cultivars.

Sastry Jayanty

“Sastry does applied research to address grower problems, but he does not stop there. He is thoroughly committed to sharing his results in ways that stimulate change,” said Jessica Davis, the Department Head/Professor at CSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences Horticulture & Landscape Architecture. “Some of Sastry’s most visible outreach activities include organizing an annual workshop on potato storage. In the last five years, he conducted over 72 Extension activities that include extension presentations, field days, open houses, program presentations, Extension and trade publications and fact sheets.”

Jayanty also is widely involved in the Potato Association of America and American Society of Horticultural Sciences. 

“I’ve been here for almost 15 years now, and I really enjoy doing it,” Jayanty said. 

David Johnson

Logistics is a key part of any perishable food supply chain, and David Johnson is proving to be a master of it in his role as production coordinator at Potandon Produce in Idaho. He works closely with Potandon’s seven partnering packing sheds to get fresh potatoes where they need to go.

David Johnson

Johnson’s ability to think from every angle of production, from field to retail, and his leadership are what set him apart, and folks outside of Potandon are taking notice. 

“In just a few short years, David earned the respect of the growers and shippers by dramatically increasing efficiencies in order placement to keep their sheds running, floors clean, and customers happy,” said Larissa Dawson, a product manager for HZPC Americas. “David is able to think from the marketer’s perspective as well as the grower, shipper and end user. He uses this to make strategic decisions and stand up for what is right. He has a true passion for finding balance for everyone.

“His style of leadership and communication is another key attribute to his success. David is direct when he needs to be direct, and hilarious when the situation allows. This makes him a relatable linking pin between an array of people.”

Moving a perishable product comes with a certain amount of anxiety, and Johnson feels it’s important to do his part to bring good vibes to the situation.

“I think everybody knows the potato industry can be a little stressful,” he said. “I think it’s really important to try to lighten up the mood and have some fun while you’re working, just as long as you’re still achieving your goals.” 

Grant Morris

Grant Morris has emerged as a leader in his home state of Washington on the Washington State Potato Commission and at the national level as a delegate and committee member of the National Potato Council. A partner at Schneider Farms, Morris was called one of the “premier growers in the Columbia Basin” by fellow grower Mike Hawley.

Grant Morris

Fresh out of college at Washington State University, Morris started working for processing potato grower Ed Schneider nearly 15 years ago. Morris knew he wanted to be in agriculture, although wasn’t sure about which crops, but had no idea his first job would turn into a long-term partnership. 

About five years into his career, he participated in the Potato Industry Leadership Institute (PILI) and made enough of an impression to be asked to return as a grower leader the following year. While the advocacy was something Morris learned from Schneider’s example, the passion for farming has been there since Morris was a small boy.

“I’ve always known what I wanted to do, I’ve never had any doubt,” Morris said. “I remember when I was a little kid, my aunt asked me if I wanted to be a farmer when I grew up and I got mad and said, ‘I am a farmer!’”

For more with Morris, check out episode 9 of “The Potato Field with Spudman” podcast. 

Guthry Laurie (Rookie of the Year)

A new aspect to the Dream Team this year, the Rookie of the Year, is to recognize someone taking their career to new heights. Laurie participated in the 2020 Potato Industry Leadership Institute (PILI), where he was voted as the standout member of the group by his peers. Laurie also became a commissioner of the Michigan Potato Industry Commission in 2019.

Guthry Laurie

In addition to his participation in PILI, Laurie was named a commissioner for the Michigan Potato Industry Commission in 2019 for a three-year term. 

While relatively new to outside-farm leadership roles, Laurie has been in the potato industry for 13 years. As farm manager of chipping potatoes producer Walther Farms’ mid-Michigan operation, Laurie has to keep tabs on what’s happening in numerous plots of land spread out over a large geographic area, what’s happening in storage and working with the supply chain. 

“I put out a lot of fires,” joked Laurie, who grew up on a dairy farm. “It’s kind of funny I’m the rookie on the team, since 2020 was my 13th season. None of them have been the same, but that’s what I like about potatoes. It’s a complex crop and there are always challenges.” 

For more with Laurie, check out episode 8 of “The Potato Field with Spudman” podcast

RELATED: Spudman’s inaugural Dream Team award winners.

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