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Idaho potato industry set to gather for 95th annual IGSA convention in Sun Valley

By
John Groh
Shawn Boyle
Shawn Boyle

Whether it’s the picturesque locale in the mountains or the quality of the educational sessions or the networking events that feature a healthy dose of fun and recreation, there are lots of reasons why the Idaho Grower Shipper Association’s annual Sun Valley convention is a highlight of the year for the potato industry, and this year’s event, scheduled for Aug. 28-Sept. 1, will be no different.

“It’s such a great venue, and the IGSA has a long history with Sun Valley,” said Shawn Boyle, who is now in his sixth year as president of the IGSA. “We started hosting the convention there the year after it opened in 1936, and we have been there ever since, only missing three conventions — two during World War II and one more recently during Covid.”

Boyle said that while activities at Sun Valley have changed throughout the years, the mission of uniting the potato industry has remained the same.

“It used to be that we held dance competitions and a baseball game,” he said. “Now, the featured activities are golf, pickleball and bowling tournaments, trap shooting and UTV rides. These fun events, along with the high-quality educational sessions we will be holding, are all great ways to bring the industry together once a year. It’s like a big potato family reunion.”

Speaking of the high-quality educational sessions, Boyle said the lineup this year is outstanding.

“We’ve always had a big focus on transportation, and we get a lot of support from the railroads and other transportation groups, so we’re excited to be hosting a transportation panel during the Wednesday sessions,” he said. “We’ll also be holding a session on artificial intelligence and the potential benefits for farmers. And we will also have a session with the American Diabetes Association regarding the use of the ADA seal on bags of Idaho potatoes.”

Boyle said the collaboration with the American Diabetes Association is especially noteworthy because of the stigma wrongly attached to potatoes.

“Potatoes were always considered off limits for those with diabetes, but now we have ADA’s support for potatoes being part of a healthy diet, so that is very encouraging and exciting for our members,” said Boyle.

Derek Peterson
Derek Peterson

This year’s convention also will see the departure of one of the longest-serving board members in Derek Peterson of Wilcox Fresh, who held the position of chairman this past year.

Boyle said that board members normally serve three-year terms, however due to an unusual set of circumstances, Peterson is in his ninth year, which is longer than anyone in the history of IGSA.

“Derek first came on the board when another member retired and he finished that unexpired term, and then he was elected to his own three-year term, following by another,” said Boyle. “Then with Covid, we had a pause and extended the board members’ terms, and then he was elevated to chairman.”

Boyle said Peterson has been an outstanding board member throughout that time, and his year as chairman was a well-deserved cherry on top for his service.

“What most impressed me about Derek is that even though he served such a long time, he always maintained his motivation and excitement, and always brought great ideas to the table,” said Boyle. “As a result, he was well prepared to serve as chairman this past year. I will be sad to see him go, because we work so well together and have become great friends.”

One of Peterson’s notable accomplishments, said Boyle, was his involvement in developing the IGSA scholarship program.

“Prior to having our own program, the IGSA would send money to the local Future Farmers of America chapters to support their programs,” said Boyle. “Derek was a big part of bringing that program in-house so that we have better control of how the money is used. It’s now a big tool for us to attract young talent into our industry and help our members retain good employees. In total, we have given out more than $100,000 in scholarship money over the 10 years we have had the program, and Derek is a big reason for its success.”

Peterson said his time on the board has been both challenging and fulfilling, with Covid among the bigger challenges.

“We had to put the convention on hold that year (2020),” said Peterson. “It was a tough decision, because of how popular the convention is with our members, but it was the right thing to do.”

Peterson also recalled that around five years ago the board was confronted with challenges on the transportation end of the business, when availability got very tight and rates spiked.

“We, as a board, believed we needed to work harder to keep the lines of communication open and help maintain good relationships with transportation providers,” he said. “We encouraged warehouses to increase amenities for truckers, such as providing lounges and coffee.”

He also pointed to the increased networking and recreational opportunities during his time on the board, such as the annual Spring Swing golf outing, which he said has become extremely popular and successful for the association.

Russet Aristocrat Award

Robert Tominaga
Robert Tominaga and Derek Peterson.

Another highlight of the annual convention is the presentation of the Russet Aristocrat Award at the Chairman’s Reception, which closes out the convention each year. This year’s recipient is Robert Tominaga of Southwind Farms, which was acquired by Wilcox last October and now operates as Southwind Farms by Wilcox.

“The Russet Aristocrat Award is given to individuals who have made an outstanding contribution to the Idaho potato industry,” said Boyle, “and that describes Robert perfectly, but he’s so much more.”

Boyle said Tominaga is kind, generous, hardworking, smart, innovative, and most of all, humble.

“At Southwind Farms, Robert and his brother Jerry pioneered fingerling potatoes in Idaho,” said Boyle. “They went out on a limb and did something that no one else was doing. They took a big risk and made it work, and through it all Robert remained as humble as ever.

“Robert is a great leader and he is someone I am extremely happy to see receive this award,” Boyle continued. “From the day I met him, Robert was always there to help me and offer guidance, and he has become a true friend.”

Peterson echoed those comments, saying Tominaga is someone he has looked up to from the time he joined the industry in the mid 2000s.

“I first met Robert in 2006, when Southwind was still pretty small,” he said. “Robert and I served on the board together for a few years and I always admired him and looked up to him. His passion for what he did always shined through.”

Peterson added that Tominaga’s involvement permeated throughout all shippers, the IGSA board and the Idaho Potato Commission.

“He was always known as ‘the fingerling guy’ and he supplied all of us with fingerlings, which was something no one else was doing,” said Peterson. “He interacted so well with everyone and also has great respect from the industry for his business acumen. Robert is the perfect choice to receive this year’s Russet Aristocrat Award.”

John Groh

John Groh

About John Groh  |  email

John Groh graduated from the University of San Diego in 1989 with a bachelors of arts degree in English. Following a brief stint as a sportswriter covering the New York Giants football team, he joined The Produce News in 1995 as an assistant editor and worked his way up the ranks, becoming publisher in 2006. He and his wife, Mary Anne, live in northern New Jersey in the suburbs of New York City.

 

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