The Idaho Barley Commission will have a new administrator for the first time in 24 years.
Kelly Olson plans to retire as administrator Aug. 3. The new administrator, Laura Wilder, is slated to arrive June 11. They will work together until Olson retires.
Wilder will join the Idaho Barley Commission following a decade as executive director of the Idaho FFA Foundation. Before that, she worked eight years at the Idaho Beef Council as special projects coordinator and then executive director.
“It will be great to have that time with her to learn as much as I can from her, and to have her introduce me to industry representatives and growers, said Wilder, 57.
She said Olson developed strong programs that leave barley growers and the commission in a good position to keep Idaho’s recently nation-leading barley industry on a growth path.
Commissioner Pat Purdy, a grower near Picabo, Idaho, will complete the second of two allowed three-year terms June 30. In recent years, commission achievements have included funding an endowment to create the state’s first university-level research position dedicated to barley, and continuing to partner with university research, he said. The Idaho barley industry increased Asia exports and now sees more domestic use of barley as a food source as marketing in that segment continues.
“The commission is in a strong position, with a strong group of growers, a strong research team and support from industry,” Purdy said.
Olson came to the Idaho Barley Commission as its second administrator in 1994 after seven years at the Idaho State Department of Agriculture, where she started the department’s marketing program. She received a Governor’s Award for Excellence in Agriculture early this year.
“We are on track to do great things. We are the largest barley producer in the U.S., and I don’t see that changing in the foreseeable future,” Olson said.
Idaho has three large malt-processing plants and a large contracting program to ship barley out-of-state for malt processing.
While malting and brewing remain strong, “we see a great opportunity to build demand for high-value food barley, and we are launching a new initiative with industry,” Olson said. “I see great opportunities in our region to build demand and increase production of high-value food barley.”
Purdy said Olson has been doing “an outstanding job helping to lead and grow the industry.” As for Wilder, “I think she’s going to take the reins right up and do a great job,” he said.
Wilder, fifth-generation owner of her family’s ranch northeast of Caldwell, lives on a 12-acre sheep farm in west Meridian with her husband, Steve, a high school agriculture teacher. They have two grown children.
As Idaho Barley Commission administrator, she plans to focus on communications and on continuing to grow the barley industry in Idaho.
“I will work on behalf of every barley grower in the state to utilize their checkoff funds in the best way possible to enhance grower profitability and add value to the various barley sectors,” Wilder said.
Idaho’s 4,000-plus barley growers pay a 3-cent-per-bushel checkoff at the first point of sale. The checkoff is designed to enhance growers’ profitability through research, market development and promotion, and information and education programs. The Idaho Barley Commission does not engage in lobbying, which is one of the tasks of the separate Idaho Grain Producers Association.
Food barley is a growth opportunity in Idaho, Wilder said.
Though about three-quarters of the state’s barley is used for malting by the beer industry and a chunk of the rest goes into animal feed — helped by the state’s livestock and dairy industries — human food-barley acreage jumped five-fold in 2017, she said.
“I love working in the agriculture sector, especially for growers,” Wilder said. “I am in a position where I feel like I can make a difference and add value to the industry.”