(March 3) After 15 years at the helm of the Idaho Potato Commission, Boise, Mel Anderson is stepping down.

Anderson, who grew up on an Idaho farm and has served the state’s potato industry since 1972, will retire at the end of 2003.

“A lot of it had to do with timing,” Anderson said. “I’ll be 65 in July, and this year the commission has only one turnover, so it should be a stable transition.”

Nine governor-appointed commissioners serve on the Idaho Potato Commission, and it’s not unusual for the three-year terms of several to expire in the same year, Anderson said.

Jeff Raybould, the commission’s chairman, said applications for a new executive director are being taken. He said commissioners wanted to give all qualified applicants time, while at the same time emphasizing that the process would not be dragged out indefinitely.

Raybould praised Anderson as a cornerstone of the Idaho potato industry, someone who will be hard to re-place.

“Mel Anderson is an institution in the Idaho potato industry,” Raybould said. “I’ve known him practically my entire career. He’s been a great leader and innovator, and has provided the expertise needed to work with a di-verse group of commissioners over the years.”

When Anderson became the commission’s executive director in 1987, Raybould said, the organization was ba-sically a one-man show. Under Anderson’s watch, a vice president of foodservice and a vice president of retail merchandising were added and the commission’s team of field representatives grew from three to seven.

“The programs Mel instituted have really flourished,” Raybould said. “He’s done a lot in the area of managing the commision’s employees, and he’s done an excellent job of keeping our industry united, of not letting the interests of different groups get in the way of what’s best for the industry as a whole.”

In addition to expanding foodservice and retail merchandising programs, Anderson cites the introduction of Spuddy Buddy, the industry’s mascot, as one of the highlights of his tenure. Anderson said the character added an element of “friendliness” to the Idaho brand, making up for the homely potato’s lack of color and pizzazz.

Anderson said he also is proud that Idaho potatoes now make up a higher percentage of the total U.S. table-stock supply than when he joined the commission. About 100 million cwt. of Idaho potatoes were produced in 1987. That number has since climbed to as high as 152 million cwt., Anderson said.

In retirement, Anderson looks forward to spending more time with his 11 grandchildren, golfing and playing folk guitar and singing. Anderson was a member of a folk group in Colorado in the 1960s. He said he also might consult in agriculture-related association and crisis management.