Weyers encourages growers to give back to industry
After 38 years of working in the potato industry there’s one fact that Dwayne Weyers lives by: enjoy your job.
“I tell everybody, you got to enjoy what you’re doing and if you don’t then it makes life miserable for everyone,” said Weyers, the National Potato Council (NPC) president for 2017. “When this becomes not fun, I’ll retire,” he said of his job running the warehouse at Aspen Produce in Center, Colorado.
In his sixth year with the NPC, Weyers, of Monte Vista, Colorado, has taken on the challenge of leading the NPC in 2017. Though he came late in his career to the executive board and the NPC presidency, his only regret is that he didn’t become involved in the NPC earlier in his career.
“I just wish that I probably had been active a little bit longer in the council or the (United States) Potato Board and had given back some of what I know in the industry,” Weyers said. “The NPC has reinvigorated me in the last six years. As I’ve gotten more involved with the NPC it’s taught me that there’s more to our industry.”
He understands the difficulty of balancing time for work and family with the additional demands required for serving in industry organizations such as the NPC and Potatoes USA. Just the same, his advice to others in the industry is to not delay in giving back to the potato industry.
“I have learned so much in the last five years about our industry and I waited probably too long,” he said. “I plan on retiring in the next two to three years and my term will be two years.”
Weyers began working for Aspen Produce in 1979 after being recruited by his friend and high school classmate Rick Ellithorpe.
When Ellithorpe’s father, Bill, retired in 1995, Weyers became a partner at Aspen Produce. Today, Rick, his son, Jed Ellithorpe and Weyers are managing partners at the company.
“We’re a small, midsize warehouse in the San Luis Valley,” Weyers said. “The farming is somewhere around 1,000 to 1,200 acres. We’re not real huge but we’re adequate for what we want to do.”
Weyers said that he and the Ellithorpes collaborate on major decisions and strategic planning with Rick and Jed overseeing the farming operation while he oversees the warehouse and shipping.
“We’re strictly fresh pack,” he said. “Most of the potatoes we grow here in Colorado go south and southeast.”
Aspen Produce ships to Texas, New Mexico, Louisiana, and depending on the type of crops, the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida.
Weyers said that they concentrate on the domestic market but sometimes ship into the 26-kilometer zone in Mexico. However, with the recent devaluation of the peso, combined with the strong dollar, they have seen a drop-off in their exports to Mexico.
“We’re not necessarily pushing to get any larger,” he said of their business model. “We’re pushing to get more efficient at what we do right now. I don’t want to be the biggest, I just want to be the best.”
His wife, Linda, also works in the potato industry as the assistant director to Jim Ehrlich, the executive director of the Colorado Potato Administrative Committee (CPAC).
They have one son, Dustin, one daughter, Amber, and four grandsons, two from each of their children.
According to Jim Ehrlich, it was while Weyers was serving on CPAC’s policy and finance committee that he was recruited to serve on the NPC.
“We were looking for someone that was interested in the governmental affairs aspects of the industry and Dwayne definitely fits that bill,” Ehrlich said. “He’s just very knowledgeable and very active in trying to understand policy making and the politics that go into that.”
Ehrlich said that Weyers has played an important role in recruiting younger growers involved in both CPAC and the national organizations.
“We’re continually trying to get younger members involved,” he said. “We’re pretty fortunate in that we’ve had good luck with that. I attribute some of that to our leadership, like Dwayne, who are constantly reminding me how important it is to seek out young leadership.”
John Keeling, CEO and executive vice president of the NPC, said that Weyers has brought a lot of passion for the success of the NPC during the past six years. He said that Weyers has brought a sharp focus on legislative and policy areas, particularly in regulatory reform and trade.
“What Dwayne has done is come on and been a strong leader for us and hopefully he’ll continue to be involved with us as his tenure as president ends,” Keeling said.
Whether you’re involved in supplying equipment, inputs or software, Keeling would like to see more involvement in the NPC from all segments within the supply chain of the potato industry. He cited Weyers as an example of someone who straddles both the growing as well as packaging and marketing segments of the industry.
“All those people have a stake in the success of the potato industry and we have a stake in their success,” Keeling said.
“It’s never too late to get involved,” Keeling said. “Your industry needs and deserves that involvement and when you’re in a position to do it we are certainly, as an organization, ready to bring you into the fold.”
In the final six months of his presidency, Weyers said that he would like to see any one of a number of issues facing the potato industry reach resolution. However, he has come to realize that regulatory reform and international trade agreements tend to move glacially towards resolution.
“We always know that beyond the horizon there’s going to be another project, another issue that we’ll have to work on,” he said. “I would just like to think that when I leave, that the organization would be strong enough to fight against anything that would be harmful to our industry.”
— Bill Schaefer, contributing writer