March 2022
Spudman’s 2022 potato industry Dream Team By Zeke Jennings

Calling all stars! It’s time to be recognized for your all-star contributions to the potato industry.

Now in its third year, Spudman magazine’s Dream Team awards program is unveiling its honorees for 2022. The Dream Team program was created to recognize all-stars from all facets of the potato industry, whether they’re in the field, the packinghouse, the office or anywhere else doing work that helps the U.S. potato scene thrive.

The Dream Team is proudly sponsored by Yara North America, a key crop protection and nutrition provider to spud growers everywhere. We thank Yara for its continued support of our awards programs.

Without further ado, let’s meet this year’s Dream Team. 

Jennifer Arave, Basic American Foods, Sr. Quality Operations Manager

Anyone in food production knows that meeting regulatory standards is an essential and cumbersome part of the operation. Making sure correct procedures are in place and, even more importantly, being followed takes coordination and cooperation from many departments and people.

Enter folks like Jennifer Arave.

Jennifer Arave, Basic American Foods

Arave is the senior quality operations manager for Basic American Foods (BAF), a major potato products producer for both the foodservice and retail markets. Arave oversees quality management for six BAF facilities, including three in southeastern Idaho and one in Washington. She oversees a team of six quality managers.

While quality assurance can require a lot of detail-oriented record keeping and procedural evaluation, it’s Arave’s ability to connect with people that sets her apart, said Brad Nelson, who heads the quality and food safety department at BAF.

“She has a depth of knowledge about the potato and potato processing industries, has strong relationships locally and regionally, and has the ability to cover almost any job or task that is set in front of her,” Nelson said. “She has amazingly high engagement scores across the board, and her leadership of her team of quality managers is top class.”

An Idaho native, Arave majored in biology at Idaho State. She wasn’t quite sure what her career path would be, but she wound up following in her father’s footsteps in quality control for BAF. Arave also has a master’s in business. 

It’s the people and collaboration part of the job that gives Arave satisfaction.

I don’t have an expansive team, but we have to ensure the production employees are following regulations and guidelines,” she said. “Working cross-functionally with all the operations teams to make sure everyone is motivated and informed.

“One of the hardest parts (of the job) is the people relations part. You can have a good idea, but you have to get people to believe it’s a good idea.” She compared the skill of engaging and communicating to a muscle. The more you work it, the stronger it gets.

Arave enjoys animals, including caring for multiple animals her family owns, as well as horseback riding with her family. She’s been a 4-H leader for her children. Another favorite is downhill skiing. 

David Holm, Colorado State University, breeder

In baseball, success getting a hit 30% of the time gets you into the Hall of Fame. Plant breeders could only dream of hitting on 30% of their attempts.

David Holm, Colorado State University

For every cultivar that eventually goes into mass production, there are thousands of breeds that never make it out of the lab. When it comes to potato breeding, David Holm is among the most accomplished of the past 40 years. 

Holm, head of Colorado State University’s breeding and selection program, has nearly three dozen cultivars to his credit that have been brought to market and has collaborated on more than 20 others with other breeding programs and agencies, including Texas A&M. Holm’s varieties are grown all over the world, including as far away as Australia and Chile. They include russets, reds, chippers, yellows and specialty varieties.

Holm has used traditional breeding methods, but said molecular breeding is one of the biggest advancements in the field during his career. He said diploid breeding has the potential to be the next, but added “time will tell.” 

When asked what ranks near the top of the most satisfying parts of his career, Holm said it was studying the health benefits of potatoes. 

“I have had the opportunity to work with several great collaborators in the study of health-promoting traits of potato,” Holm said. “We released Purple Majesty in 2005. Its healthy-promoting attributes are more studied than most any other potato in the world.”

While most of his career has been spent in the San Luis Valley, Holm is a native of Shelley, Idaho, and received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Idaho. His Ph.D. was earned at the University of Minnesota.

Holm officially retired in 2021, but remains active with the CSU breeding program while it transitions to new leadership. He is active in volunteering his time and knowledge to aid the Colorado Science and Engineering Fair and San Luis Valley Regional Science Fair.

Jolyn Rasmussen, JR Simplot, Sr. Manager, Raw Product Development and Sustainability

Jolyn Rasmussen has been with the J.R. Simplot Company for 11 years, including the past four as the senior manager of raw product development and sustainability. Based in Boise, Idaho, Rasmussen oversees agronomy, variety development and sustainability for one of the largest potato processors in the world. 

Jolyn Rasmussen, JR Simplot and the Potato Sustainability Alliance

If that sounds like a handful, that’s because it is. Rasmussen’s job includes dealing with huge numbers of people and projects. And that’s just her role with Simplot. Rasmussen also is largely involved in the Potato Sustainability Alliance as its first vice chair and now newly appointed chair. She is one of 24 people on the board, which includes six growers, six processors, three fresh packers and six others from industries affiliated with the potato industry in the way of crop protection or environmental non-governmental organizations.

“She deftly manages competing interests and personalities to keep the group focused on the future and the potential to improve the positioning of the industry going into the future,” said Caite Lee, marketing manager for GreenLight Biosciences. As someone who is new to the industry myself, I am impressed by her lack of ego and commitment for doing what is best for potatoes. 

“She is definitely a rising star.”

Rasmussen often speaks at industry-related events and conferences, including representing the potato industry at the 2021 Sustainable Agriculture Summit. 

“Agriculture and the potato industry have a great story to tell and are part of the climate solution. I want to help the potato industry align and tell the story, rather than someone else tell it for them,” Rasmussen said. 

Rasmussen grew up on a Wisconsin dairy farm before attending the University of Wisconsin, where she majored in agronomy and dairy sciences. Her master’s degree in horticulture also came from UW. She previously worked as a field rep for Del Monte and agriculture project supervisor at UW. 

Rasmussen enjoys horseback riding with her family, including two daughters, and camping in the Idaho mountains. 

Victoria Wright, Black Gold Farms, Regional Agronomist

While studying crop and soil sciences technology at Michigan State University, Victoria Wright served an internship at a co-operative farming operation. Wright grew up showing animals in 4-H and had some mild exposure to farming through her father and uncle’s 70 acres, but it was the internship where she really got to see crop production up close. Field corn, soybeans and watermelon were among the crops she surveyed, but it was potatoes that peaked her interest.

Victoria Wright, Black Gold Farms

“I knew then I wanted to be a potato farmer,” Wright said. “I love how intensive they are. It is something different every year. They are 100% fast-paced, and that’s exactly the way I am.”

Wright was hired by Black Gold Farms after graduating from MSU in 2017. She currently serves as a regional agronomist and works 6,000 acres between Black Gold’s Sturgis, Michigan and Winamac, Indiana operations. She is involved in all inputs of the crop, from seed selection all the way to harvest. 

“Victoria has a passion for farming and it shows in her everyday activities,” said Black Gold CEO Eric Halverson. “She is the first to volunteer to help and goes above and beyond her duties as an agronomist. She has an amazing understanding of how to grow a crop from start to finish.”

Wright also helps teach students agriculture at a local community college. “She brings a positive attitude each day and makes her team better and the culture at the farm better,” added Halverson.

Wright enjoys snowboarding during the winter months, as well as spending time with her family — including three nieces — and friends. From mid-March through the end of October, however, you’re likely to find her on the farm. 

The staff, San Acacio Seed Farm

It’s no secret that harvest time is a crazy time on a potato farm. There are no sick days to be had. Unless there’s no choice.

When harvest time rolled around in 2021 at San Acacio Seed Farm in Colorado’s San Luis Valley, the pandemic hit home at the worst possible time. Both farm managers — Braydon and Amanda Wakasugi — came down with COVID-19 and had to quarantined themselves away from the farm operations, left only to assist remotely and not hands on.

Left to right, Vivian Jones, Alvaro Altamirano, Alejandro Rodriguez, Brydon Gylling and Gerardo Gonzalez of San Acacio Seed. Photo: Amanda Wakasugi

Led by San Acacio’s four full-time employees — Alvaro Altamirano, Gerardo Gonzalez, Brydon Gylling and Alejandro Rodriguez — the staff, including the seasonal harvest team, filled the big shoes and made sure harvest was successful. Their work was essential not just in harvesting the seed potatoes, but to assure all safety, sanitation and regulation protocols could be met.

“Each of the four full-time crew members stepped up in tremendous ways to keep our seed farm harvest moving forward efficiently and effortlessly with help from our seasonal harvest team — with multiple fields, seed lots, sampling, storages, strict sanitation protocol, record keeping and sizing operations to keep track of,” said Amanda Wakasugi. “This enabled management to stay current with all computer files and farm organization, and return just in time to undergo our annual farm GAP audit and pass with flying colors!

“The crew simply did an amazing job and there aren’t enough words to express how proud the farm is to have them as team members.”

Wakasugi stressed that for a seed potato farm that emphasizes quality and isolation, what the staff accomplished was well beyond the norm. 

“It was an amazing feat and accomplishment for each of them to step up the way they did to keep the farm on track and not losing a beat for our harvest and farm goals,” she added.

Previous Spudman Dream Team honorees

Winners of Spudman’s annual Spudwoman of the Year award

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