The concept of breaking glass ceilings isn’t one that Britt Raybould readily discusses. Though she is the first woman president in the 72-year history of the National Potato Council, it’s a fact that Raybould acknowledges while downplaying at the same time. She would rather focus on the fact that she is the third member of her family to serve a one-year term as president.
Following in the steps of her grandfather, Dell Raybould, 1978 NPC president, and her father, Jeff, 1997 NPC president, Britt ascended to the grower organization’s presidency at the NPC annual meeting this past January in Las Vegas.
Growing up on the family farm and being the third Raybould to lead the NPC, is an example of the generational strengths that can be found in the history of the potato industry and Idaho agricultural she said.
“I think it points to the fact of how much of the potato industry really does focus on family,” Raybould said. “A lot of the longer-term operations are family operations, it’s not to say others haven’t come in and started something and have gotten it going without having a family tradition, but I think it points to the fact that within the potato industry there’s a strong family element.”
Without a doubt Raybould Brothers Farms is a textbook example of that strong family element. Britt is the chief financial official at RBF. Together with her younger brother, Jaren, an RBF owner/operator, their father and grandfather and three full-time employees, they manage the daily operations of the farm. Temporary employment during the fall harvest will result in an additional 25 to 30 seasonal workers, mostly high school and college students.
The Rayboulds grow Russet Norkotahs and Russet Burbank potatoes for the fresh market on just over 800 acres annually, along with 1,400 acres of grain and 150 acres of alfalfa in Madison and Fremont counties.
“We grow for Five Guys (restaurant) and we also grow for the open market,” Britt said.
Potatoes that don’t meet fresh grade standards are sold to the Idahoan dehydration plant for processing.
Not only has Britt followed in her grandfather’s footsteps as NPC president, but she was also elected to succeed him as the state Representative in District 34B for the Republican Party in the 2018 election. Her legislative responsibilities include serving on three House committees: Appropriations, Environment, Energy & Technology and Resources & Conservation.
This time of year, tax time, is always a busy time for Britt: As CFO she has to ensure that all the W-2s and tax documents are sent out by the end of January. She credits her family and the NPC staff for all their support in helping her juggle and multi-task three jobs at the same time.
“I need to give full credit. It’s my dad and brother who are doing the day-to-day operations along with our really hard-working folks who are with us throughout the year.
“I’m very lucky to be surrounded by a lot of supportive people,” Britt said. “The staff at the NPC are fantastic. We were very lucky to find such a solid combination in Kam (Quarles) and Mike (Wenkle) to take on that new leadership role within the organization and of course Hollee (Alexander), Hillary (Hutchins) and Mark (Szymanski) are fantastic at what they do and make it all possible.”
Kam Quarles has been CEO of the NPC for eight months, succeeding John Keeling, and Mike Wenkle took on the newly created position of chief operations officer in June 2019.
Raybould grew up in St. Anthony and is a graduate of Sugar-Salem High School. She then completed a bachelor of arts degree in English with an emphasis in technical communications from Boise State University and followed that with a masters in professional communications from Westminster College in Salt Lake City.
During her time at BSU and Westminster, and even after completing her degrees, she was non-committal about her future on the family farm.
“I wasn’t 100 percent sure I was going to come back,” she said. “I had degrees in communications and I was working in corporate marketing.”
For Britt it was a classic example of absence makes the heart grow fonder. After working in marketing for seven years she made the decision to return to the family farm in 2007.
“It was just over a period of time when I decided that this was something that I hadn’t realized I was as invested in and was interested in coming back to,” she said in recounting how she decided to come back and work on the family farm.
“I would still come back here during potato harvest and be around for some of the busier times of year,” she said, “but what really struck me is when I’d been working in an office setting for a number of years and it was really difficult for me to describe what I did for people.”
She found that she missed the elemental satisfaction that comes from production on the farm.
“When I went to the farm there was this really clear outcome,” Raybould said of why she decided to come back. “You worked the land. You harvested the crop. You had this very visible, very clear outcome for all the hard work that you put into it. It was really surprising to me how much more fulfilling I found the farming side of things,” she said of her decision to return.
It’s a calculated balancing act for Raybould with her legislative responsibilities demanding the majority of her time right now, followed by her commitment to the NPC and then the family farm.
“I’m primarily focused on the legislature when were in session. It’s what’s happening in terms of priorities, so it gets the lion’s share of my attention,” she said. “Come April, May, I’ll shift back and most of my attention will go back towards the farm and most of my responsibilities that I have there.”
Her next major NPC commitment will be the annual Potato D.C. Fly-In from Feb. 24-27 in Washington, D.C. This represents an opportunity for the nation’s potato growers, processors and related businesses to hear from policymakers, regulatory agencies and legislators in seminars and then to spend a day on Capitol Hill meeting with their legislators and lobbying for the potato industry. She has arranged to have a substitute-legislator fill in for her during the Fly-In.
As Britt settles in to lead the NPC through 2020, she has set two goals she wants to accomplish in the coming year.
She wants to encourage greater participation from growers of her generation and make sure that they know their voices are being heard.
“We’ve managed to accomplish a lot for an organization of our size and I’d like for us to continue being successful going forward, but in order to do that we need to make sure that the folks who are my age are coming in, are participating, are learning the ropes and are a part of things,” she said. “If you can only be at one of the NPC meetings a year, you can’t make all three but you can make one we still want to see you.”
While it’s a safe bet that Britt does not lack for things to do, she is looking forward to the NPC summer meeting in Boise this June 24-26. She sees it as an opportunity to showcase Idaho’s state capital.
“I think they’ll be surprised to see how much Boise has changed and how much the downtown has grown,” she said. “It’s just this really, I think quite vibrant and interesting capital in a state that maybe flies under the radar a little bit.”