(Oct. 24) FRESNO, Calif. — Randy Duckworth is adding a new wrinkle to his career.

The executive director of the Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association, Antigo, will be heading west on Nov. 12 to join the California Raisin Marketing Board, Fresno, as its director of marketing.

Though he is excited about his new post, Duckworth said he is still concerned about the future of the potato industry.

“It’s tough to leave the potato industry because, like the rest of agriculture, they are having a hard time,” he said. “It’s going to be very difficult.”

The Wisconsin growers association, however, is more optimistic. Its board of directors has already unanimously selected Mike Carter, director of government and grower relations, as its new executive director.
Andy Diercks, board president and vice president of Coloma Farms, Coloma, Wis., said having Carter in place should make for a smooth transition.

“Mike has well-established, friendly and productive relationships with industry members and government officials,” Diercks said. “He understands the industry inside-out. He is familiar with the many difficult issues facing the industry and has proven himself very capable of addressing those issues.”

Duckworth, who has been with the Wisconsin association for 2½ years, said the raisin industry will present him with some challenges.

“Not that I haven’t had challenges here in Wisconsin,” he said. “But there are 5,000 growers who need to find a way to keep growing raisins because it has not been profitable.”

In addition to serving the association, Duckworth spent five years working for the USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council, Moscow, Idaho, as its vice president of marketing and general council.

Though he doesn’t yet know all of the ins and outs of the raisin industry, Duckworth said he already has some ideas on where to generate new sales.

“I’m not from the industry, so I can’t say that I have all the answers yet,” he said. “The overall objective is to increase return for growers. The foodservice and food processing sectors offer opportunities for that. There are a lot of opportunities in schools and institutional settings for increased use.”

Duckworth has other ideas on how to increase consumption, including cross-promotions with other California agricultural groups, such as nut producers.

“It will be my job to uncover some of those opportunities,” he said. “(The board has) an excellent staff, so hopefully they can get me up to speed there.”

As for leaving Wisconsin, Duckworth said it wasn’t an easy decision to walk away from the potato industry.

“It’s already been gut-wrenching for me,” he said. “I’ve got friends in this industry and people that I’ve come to know and will sincerely miss.”