Returning CEO to focus on data, 'matching supply with real demand'
By JOHN O'CONNELL
IDAHO FALLS -- Jerry Wright explained his task during his first stint as president and chief executive officer of the United Potato Growers of America in 2004 was to right a potato industry facing disaster caused by overproduction.
By helping growers embrace basic supply and demand principles, Wright, of Idaho Falls, believes his organization, which represents fresh growers, laid the groundwork for years of prosperity.
On Dec. 3, the Salt Lake City-based cooperative chose Wright to return to his former post, where he vows to refocus growers' attention on those economic fundamentals.
Wright replaces Lee Frankel.
"What we're going to focus on now is this: matching supply with real demand, having data that backs you up so people really understand what's going on," Wright said.
The organization's supply management strategy is also the target of a lawsuit filed by a wholesale potato buyer alleging antitrust violations. In a recent ruling, Chief U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill allowed the lawsuit to go forward, contrary to the UPGA's assertions that its actions are protected by the Capper-Volstead Act and the suit should be thrown out.
The organization released a general statement about the ruling: "We're optimistic about the judge's ruling and we're optimistic for potato growers."
For the past two years, Wright believes Mother Nature has helped growers produce the right-sized crop.
"I think if you were to ask the growers, they recognize in 2011 had they gotten an average yield they would have had more potatoes than they could deal with," Wright said, adding while Idaho's yields were up, the national average was down.
Any attention to other concerns aside from balancing supply and demand would pose a distraction from the most critical issue, Wright said.
Wright holds a bachelor of science and a business degree from Brigham Young University.
"His vision and energy helped establish this organization and we look forward to his proven leadership," UPGA Chairman Dave Warsh said.
In 2004, following four years of unsustainable losses, a group of Idaho's largest potato growers formed a cooperative, the United Potato Growers of Idaho, and named Wright as president and CEO.
Wright said 40 percent of Idaho's potato growers left the market between 2001 and 2004. Upon assuming his position, Wright and Eastern Idaho potato grower Albert Wada spent a couple of months establishing cooperatives in Wisconsin, Colorado, Washington, Oregon and California before creating the national organization, which Wright led while he continued running Idaho's cooperative.
"This was really a groundswell. It started at the most basic level, at the level of the grower who acknowledged we've got to change the paradigm if we're going to survive," Wright said.