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Outstanding women of the Wisconsin potato industry

These ladies are among an impressive group of women that continues to further potato and vegetable production in the state of Wisconsin, writes Joe Kertzman, in an article published by Wisconsin State Farmer. Joe Kertzman is the managing editor of the Badger Common’Tater. He is writing about Lynn Leahy and Heidi Alsum-Randall.

As head research agronomist at Heartland Farms, Inc., Lynn Leahy attributes success in her career to hard work, grit and commitment to life goals, as well as the farm managers at Heartland Farms taking a chance on her.

Leahy, who grew up on a typical small Wisconsin dairy farm in Argyle, Wisconsin, knew by middle school that she wanted to work in agriculture off the family farm. She attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison to pursue a degree in dairy science, and while there, played in the marching band.

“I completed my bachelor’s degree in 2010,” Leahy says. “I had the opportunity to obtain my master’s degree in horticulture while at Heartland Farms, which I completed in 2016 on stem-end defect in potato chips,” she explains.

As the head research agronomist at Heartland Farms, she is responsible for managing small-plot field trials from inception to the final data reports. “A large portion of my responsibilities involves collecting samples and data and maintaining the spreadsheets for a portion of the data,” she explains.

Some of the main categories for which she collects samples and data include emergence, canopy cover, stem counts, bulking curves, new varieties, bruise-free numbers during harvest and sugars in storage.

“As an agronomist, I strive to keep up with all current research being published,” Leahy notes.

She served on WPVGA’s research and SpudPro committees, and in 2017, was selected as a participant in the Potato Industry Leadership Institute (PILI).

As part of PILI, Leahy attended the Potato D.C. Fly-In, where she learned about the National Potato Council and all the individuals who help lobby for grower-friendly legislation.

“In the future, I would like to be a member of the WPVGA Board,” she says. “I am proud to be able to push the envelope and the boundaries and show that women can be involved in the industry,” Leahy remarks.

Not only is Heidi Alsum-Randall the first-ever female president of the Wisconsin Potato Industry Board, but she also currently represents the state on the Potatoes USA Executive Committee.
(Photo: Carlos Osorio)

Heidi Alsum-Randall is the first female president of the Wisconsin Potato Industry Board (WPIB), Heidi Alsum-Randall is chief operating officer of Alsum Farms & Produce in Friesland, Wisconsin, concentrating on the production, sales, human resources and purchasing sides of the business.

“I currently share the chief operating officer role with my sister, Wendy Alsum-Dykstra,” Randall says. “She oversees our logistics and maintenance divisions and is involved in the finance department.”

Randall, who has a Bachelor of Business Administration in Human Resource Management degree, worked as a recruiter for WPS Health Insurance Company and then as a fleet manager for deBoer Transportation.

On a state level, she has served as a director of the WPIB since July 2011 and as president beginning in 2014. Randall has been involved in the Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association (WPVGA) Promotions & Consumer Education Committee since 2006.

Beginning in 2015, she’s represented Wisconsin on the Potatoes USA Board of Directors, serving in various capacities, including on the Domestic Marketing Administrative Committee.

In 2018, at the March Annual Meeting, she was elected to serve on the Potatoes USA Executive Committee as co-chair of the Industry Outreach Committee and continues to work in this capacity.

“I have one year left of my six-year term on the Potatoes USA Board and have really enjoyed the opportunity to serve and interact with other growers, packers and shippers throughout the United States,” she says.

“I think it … shows how progressive the potato industry and farmers in general are,” she adds. “I appreciate how the potato industry recognizes the need to continually develop the next generation of leaders, whether female or male, and provides opportunities for younger leaders to serve.”

“I absolutely love being part of our family farm and business and the Wisconsin potato and vegetable industry,” Randall says. “I feel privileged to work alongside my dad, sister, brothers, aunt and so many other passionate individuals.”

“In general,” she suggests, “potato growers are collaborative, and this is especially true in Wisconsin where we have earned a reputation in the potato industry because of how well we work together.”

“As a whole,” she continues, “I feel agriculture has advanced through the decades, embracing women working in the industry. I respect leaders, whether male or female, for their skills and abilities and appreciate working with all growers to advance the industry.”

“Looking to the future,” Randall says, “with discussions of joining the Madison Public Market, I am excited about possibilities and venues to introduce new consumers to the healthy and nutritious products that we grow with a year-round presence.”

Source: Read the full report in the Wisconsin State Farmer here
Photo at the top: Lynn Leahy | Courtesy of Hartland Farms, Inc.

Lukie Pieterse, Editor and Publisher of Potato News Today

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