Posted: Thursday, January 19, 2012 11:00 AM
Mick focused on long-term market development
Tom Mick, the retiring CEO of the Washington Grain Commission, is a forward-thinker and a champion for wheat and barley farmers, industry members say.
Mick announced Jan. 12 he will retire from the commission June 30 after 25 years.
Mick said in a press release that working for Washington wheat and barley farmers has been the highlight of his career in the grain industry.
"I'm proud of what we have been able to accomplish as an industry and the leadership role the commission has taken on issues of national significance," Mick stated.
Mick started out as assistant administrator of the Colorado Wheat Administrative Committee, later becoming administrator. He was director of the U.S. Wheat Associates' South Asia office in Singapore for eight years, then worked at U.S. Wheat's Washington, D.C., office for two years. He joined the Washington Wheat Commission in 1987. The wheat and barley commissions later merged to become the grain commission with him as CEO.
Longtime colleague Mark Samson, currently a consultant in Boise, Idaho, has known Mick since 1977. He said Mick has focused on long-term market development.
"Tom has had the ability to look five or six years down the road and say, 'OK, here's where the customer is going, what their desires are for quality, what their needs are for why and how they use the product and what changes are taking place,'" Samson said, noting Mick has gently moved the industry to meet those needs.
When overseas customers required segregation of soft white wheat by protein levels, the industry in Washington, Oregon and Idaho initially balked, Samson said. Today's pricing structure shows low-protein soft white wheat trades at a premium to higher protein wheat.
"I think that exemplifies Tom's foresight and dedication to the industry," Samson said. "He took a lot of heat for that, but it worked out well for producers in all three states."
Blaine Jacobson, executive director of the Idaho Wheat Commission, said Mick has a passion for improving soft white wheat in the Pacific Northwest, particularly enhancing its quality and finding new uses and blends.
"He has been a champion in prodding the breeders to bring higher-quality varieties," Jacobson said. Mick has also traveled extensively to open new markets and increase sales to existing markets, he said.
"He has been a great spokesman for the industry; he will be greatly missed," said Oregon Wheat CEO Blake Rowe. "We wish him the best."
National Association of Wheat Growers CEO Dana Peterson wished Mick well as he enters a "new season of life."
"We thank Tom for the leadership he's given to the industry," Peterson said.
Dan Bernardo, dean of Washington State University's College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences, said Mick has been a great advocate for advancing research to benefit Washington's wheat industry.
"From our perspective at WSU, his legacy will be the development of an amazing partnership between the grain producers of our state and WSU agriculture based upon the principles of excellence, service to the industry and accountability," Bernardo said. Under Mick, the grain commission funded five endowed chairs at WSU and allocated millions of dollars to fund research, facilities and equipment.
Randy Suess, chair of U.S. Wheat Associates and a grain commissioner representing Whitman County, credited Mick's experience with making the grain commission proactive in selling Washington wheat overseas.
"Yes, that's exactly what U.S. Wheat does, but on the other hand they have to represent all six classes of wheat," Suess said. "Going to our specific markets that affected us, I think it made a huge impact on sales around the world."
Glen Squires, vice president of the grain commission, will serve as interim CEO for the commission upon Mick's retirement until a replacement can be found.
"It's going to be some deep shoes to fill," Suess said. "We will do a search. We're not going to rush into this, certainly. We want to make sure we do this correctly."