PORTLAND — Between growing up on a farm and working at the Oregon Department of Agriculture, Gary Roth said he is just as comfortable at the statehouse as he is getting his hands dirty.
That level of familiarity will help Roth, 57, as he prepares to lead the Oregon potato lobby.
Roth took over May 1 as CEO of the Oregon Potato Commission, replacing Bill Brewer, who announced his retirement in February. The commission, formed in 1949, represents potato growers and processors advocating for public policy, trade, research and promotion.
Potatoes ranked in Oregon as the seventh most valuable agricultural commodity in 2018, earning $176.9 million.
"It is a privilege to represent the Oregon potato industry," Roth said. "The hard-working men and women of the industry deserve and should expect the best from their commission. I look forward to applying my experience from across Oregon agriculture, and focusing that experience and drive, to achieve a tangible, positive impact for Oregon potatoes."
Roth is a lifelong agriculturist, growing up on a 300-acre farm in Scappoose, Ore., raising beef cattle and hogs. He earned a bachelor's degree in agricultural and resource economics from Oregon State University, and a graduate certificate in international agribusiness at the University of Bradford in England.
After beginning his career as a lobbyist for the Oregon Farm Bureau, Roth went on to have two separate stints at the Department of Agriculture in Salem — first as international trade manager and business developer and then as director of the agency's agricultural development and marketing division.
Roth also spent about six years running his own consulting firm, Roth Bates Inc., based in Warren, Ore., doing project management and business development.
Coming from ODA to the potato commission, Roth said he is excited to concentrate on a single crop — as opposed to more than 200 grown statewide — and promote the industry through legislation, consumer education and marketing.
"Those were all things that were really intriguing to me," he said.
Roth said he is looking forward to building on current strengths of the commission's programs and aggressively addressing areas of opportunity, including potatoes as part of a healthy diet and international market access.
About 65% of Oregon potatoes are sold overseas. With 25 years of experience in international trade and market development, Roth said he believes there is opportunity to continue strengthening relationships in countries around Asia and the Middle East.
Brewer, who served as commission CEO since 2005, said he has worked with Roth on several international trade projects during his time at ODA.
"I believe Gary is a very good choice to lead the Oregon Potato Commission and support all Oregon potato growers," Brewer said. "He has an effective understanding of Oregon agriculture, international programs, government and marketing. He will bring a lot to the table with other potato state programs, and fit in well with all state and national managers."
Mark Ward, a potato farmer near Baker City and commission chairman, also welcomed Roth on board, saying his experience will make him a great addition to the organization.
Roth said Brewer has been a committed professional to the industry, and one of his top priorities will be to amplify the standards Brewer set for Oregon potatoes at the national level.
At the same time, Roth said the commission will continue to support other agricultural groups in Oregon and potato growers across the Northwest.
"The Oregon Potato Commission has been and will continue to be a very open and willing partner to help out not only potatoes, but all of agriculture," he said.