WPVGA Presents Annual Industry Awards

In addition to its annual Hall of Fame inductions, the Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association (WPVGA) presented several other annual Industry Awards during a virtual ceremony held February 2-3, 2021. 

Mike Carter of Bushmans’ Inc., Rosholt, Wisconsin, was named the WPVGA Volunteer of the Year. For 12 years, Mike served the WPVGA as its Executive Director.

In his current role as the CEO of Bushmans’, Inc., a vertically integrated fresh market potato company, he manages all aspects of the organization. Mike currently serves on the WPVGA Board of Directors as Treasurer. He also serves on the Potatoes USA Executive Committee and has worked closely with the National Potato Council for many years. He is the Co-Chair of the WPVGA Governmental Affairs Committee.

Carter is involved in several ministries at Mount Olive Lutheran Church in Weston, including the Feed My Starving Children Planning Committee, Marriage Ministry Team, the Mount Olive Finance Committee, and serving as Vice President of the Church Board.

Alex Okray was named WPVGA Young Grower of the Year.Alex started working for Okray Family Farms, Plover, in 2016, after graduating from St. Norbert College with a degree in business. 

“I decided to join the family business after I graduated because agriculture is a strong field to work in, and because I had a rare opportunity to work for a business my family owns,” he says. “I am the fourth generation to work for our company, and it’s great to continue the work my family has been doing for over 100 years. I also enjoy knowing that the work I do helps feed families across the country.” 

Though Okray tries to be involved with every area of the company, he is mainly responsible for finances and human resources.

He is currently serving his first term as a WPVGA Board member and is part of the Water Task Force and Grower Education committees, while also serving on the Vegetable Committee. Outside of work, he serves as a board member for the United Way of Portage County and on United Way’s Executive Committee.

The WPVGA Researcher of the Year Award went to Dr. Yi Wang, an assistant professor and state extension specialist working on sustainable vegetable production in the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Horticulture. Yi has published 17 manuscripts in peer-reviewed journals and received about $1.5 million in research funding.

She notes, “The goal of my research and extension program is to conduct science-based applied research and collaborate with potato and vegetable growers and processors.”

Such collaboration includes work in improving the resource use efficiency and sustainability of vegetable cropping systems and reducing the impact of vegetable production on the environment. She is a WPVGA base-funded researcher in potato and vegetable production.

The WPVGA Associate Division Business Person of the Year Award was presented to Kenton Mehlberg of T.I.P., Inc. and AgGrow Solutions, in Custer. Kenton completed his second term of service on the WPVGA Associate Division Board of Directors in February. He has served the last two years as President of the Associate Division Board and demonstrated outstanding leadership, especially in light of all the challenges the industry faced in 2020. 

With extensive safety protocols in place, the Associate Division conducted a highly successful and safe golf outing in the summer of 2020, which raised thousands of dollars for the industry. To engage even more members, Kenton helped bring a new idea to fruition in 2020: the first Annual Trap Shoot Event at the Wausau Skeet and Trap Club, in Brokaw. Kenton knows that not everyone is a golfer, so he decided to offer an alternative activity that he knew would be popular with many members.

The Trap Shoot was held safely and was a big success, with a full flight of 15 five-person teams. The event also served as one more fundraiser for the Associate Division, which raises funds every year for scholarships and grants among its many programs.

While serving as President of the Associate Division the past two years, Kenton has shown distinguished leadership skills, including integrity and positivity along with great vision. He is very deserving of the WPVGA Associate Division Business Person of the Year Award.

The Agri-Communicator Award for excellence in communication and dedicated service in presenting a positive message about the agricultural industry was presented to Clark Camilli, the Midwest Farms Operations Controller for R.D. Offutt Farms in Fargo, North Dakota. Clark grew up in Owatonna, Minnesota, and currently resides in Lakeville. He has served in his present position for 23 years.    

Clark has done an outstanding job representing Wisconsin when reporting on the processing potato crops and contracts as part of the Potato Marketing Association of North America meetings. He fully understands potato crops, is detail-oriented and has a sharp eye when it comes to reading contracts and interpreting their value to growers.

He has been extremely helpful in working with the WPVGA’s Process/Frozen Committee on a number of processing potato issues. He also serves on the processor contract committee that works with the J.R. Simplot Company in North Dakota. R.D. Offutt has processing potato contracts with all the major processors, including Simplot, McCain Foods, Lamb Weston, Cavendish and Northern Star, and operates a 1,400-acre potato farm in Durand and Menomonie, Wisconsin.

2020 WPVGA Board President Rod Gumz of Gumz Muck Farms, Endeavor, presented the President’s Award to his brother, Richard Gumz, who, along with Rod, represents the fourth generation of family members working together on the farm. “He and I had the opportunity to buy my grandfather out to continue the tradition of farming,” Rod says. “We’ve worked together for 25 years, and it’s been a great experience to work with family. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

A special WPVGA Industry Appreciation Award was presented to Karen Rasmussen, who serves as the Financial Officer for the WPVGA and does an outstanding job handling an ever-increasing workload while performing her duties in a timely fashion. She is always on time for work or for meetings, is extremely organized and is as reliable as the day is long. She will work as hard and long as it takes to get the job done.  

2020 marked Karen’s 25th year of full-time work at the WPVGA, and the industry is fortunate to have such a hardworking, dedicated, loyal employee. On behalf of the entire industry, WPVGA Executive Director Tamas Houlihan offered a sincere “Thank You” to Karen as he presented her with this well-deserved Industry Appreciation Award.