Blake Rowe

Blake Rowe, CEO of the Oregon Wheat Commission and Oregon Wheat Growers League, has announced his plans to retire next year.

The top executive of the Oregon wheat industry has announced his plans to retire next year.

Blake Rowe plans to depart in 2020 after eight years. The Oregon Wheat CEO oversees both the Oregon Wheat Commission and the Oregon Wheat Growers League.

"I just feel like it's time," Rowe, 62, told the Capital Press. "I think I'm still effective at doing this, but it's a big job, it wears on you. ... I don't want to overstay and be that person who works too long and either loses a step or loses the opportunity to enjoy retirement."

Rowe said he has no immediate plans except for spending more time with family.

"I was trying actually to hold onto Blake until I left," said Walter Powell, commission chairman. "It happened again Sunday night — it's 9:45 and Blake is at his desk working in the evening. He's a person who is dedicated and used to putting in quality time, and a lot of it. That's pretty unique today."

Alan von Borstel, president of the league, had also hoped to "squeak through" before Rowe retired.

"Blake's been our consistency," von Borstel said. "He's not afraid to speak out when he needs to, he brings the knowledge to the debates that we have. We're going to miss him."

Powell and von Borstel said their organizations are likely to maintain the co-CEO position.

Von Borstel said the league may discuss adding an assistant for the position, to help manage increasingly challenging matters for both organizations.

"There's times I'll call and go, 'Where is he?' so then I'll accuse Wally of stealing him too much of the time, and then Wally will say, 'Well, no, we were thinking you had him too much of the time,'" von Borstel said. "As long as we both feel that way, I guess it's equal."

The search for Rowe's replacement will begin in the fall.

Rowe said that the ideal candidate would have a diverse background, who can handle a mix of marketing, legislative, environmental and regulatory matters. 

"You don't necessarily have to hire somebody who knows all about wheat, because the growers know all about that," he said. "I'm still not an expert on wheat, but I think it worked out pretty well."

Before joining the Oregon wheat organizations, Rowe worked in the forest products industry.

They hope to have a replacement on board to accompany Rowe at industry conferences and meetings in Washington D.C., in late January.

Rowe's willing to stick around if the search takes longer.

"I want them to find the right person and give them time to have a smooth transition, and then I'll ride off into the sunset," he said.

Asked about his biggest accomplishment so far, Rowe said everything depends on the team around him. They worked on farm bills, funding for research and other issues.

"The credit goes to a big group of folks that worked very effectively," he said.

Rowe considers himself "rarely blessed" to have worked for both farmers and foresters in his career.

"I feel like I've done the job well and worked hard, but I guarantee you I have gotten more from them," he said. "I've received more than I can ever give."

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