Moses Lake, WA 98837, USA

Commission leader reflects on potatoes in Oregon

By RACHAL PINKERTON
Staff Writer

PORTLAND, Ore. — In the spring of 2019, Gary Roth stepped into the role of executive director for the Oregon Potato Commission. His predecessor, Bill Brewer, stepped down after 13 years at the commission.

“I inherited a healthy program with a veteran staff in the office and a strong base of research,” Roth said. “It was critical that it be maintained, and I believe we have.”

Roth grew up on a 300-acre farm in western Oregon that grew a diverse range of crops, as well as livestock. He went to Oregon State University and Honors College, graduating with a degree in agriculture and resource economics.

“From there, I served as a lobbyist for the Oregon Farm Bureau followed by 23 years working in and eventually directing the domestic and international market development work of the Oregon Department of Agriculture,” Roth said. “The vast majority of my career has been spent coordinating and/or executing university research, legislative affairs, trade development and consumer education across most of Oregon’s 225 commodities. Working for the Oregon Potato Commission affords me the opportunity to focus my background, skills and knowledge on one product – potatoes. And I have to say, I absolutely love the people and the work.”

Since Roth took the helm of the Oregon Potato Commission, he has discovered that time is one of the valuable resources that the commission has. He said that there are more opportunities available to benefit the Oregon potato grower than there is time.

He has also been surprised by the amount of opportunities available in the state for meeting people and talking with them. Roth thinks this may be due to the sophistication of the industry and engagement across multiple platforms, including research, legislative issues, marketing and trade and consumer education.

The management of disease and pests, as well as the development of potato varieties that will produce the best product, will continue to be the commission’s No. 1 priority.

The commission coordinates its research efforts with Washington and Idaho.

The cooperation between the three states in this and other areas was welcome news to Roth.

“My counterparts to the north and east have been so welcoming and helpful,” Roth said. “For example, Oregon and Washington each have their unique characteristics but have many more commonalities than differences, and production on both sides of the Columbia River is very similar. It is similarities such as that that bind us together in the Northwest and make all three states stronger when we define and execute together on matters of mutual importance.”

In the future, Roth hopes to increase efforts on educating consumers about the health benefits of potatoes and “increase market access and penetration globally.”

“We continue to push positive messaging about potatoes through our sensory program, schools, the state legislature and in the media whenever possible,” Roth said. “The National Potato Council and Potatoes USA are great partners for us internationally where we will be focusing on Japan and the Middle East in the coming year.”

Rachal Pinkerton may be reached via email at rpinkerton@basinbusinessjournal.com.

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