PGA welcomes new executive director

Written by Stan Ashbee

Wednesday, 24 October 2012 18:45

Potatoes of the cooked kind are delicious whether they are roasted and covered in herbs and garlic, deep fried and powdered with salt or in mashed form,  slathered in butter. Any way you slice them, potatoes are plentiful and a big part of agricultural business in Alberta and the Potato Growers of Alberta (PGA) represents all the potato growers in the province. The PGA, Taber office, recently hired Helmut Leili, as the association’s new executive director. Leili has been in the new position since Sept. 4 and was previously a consultant in business analysis and market development for fruits and vegetables in Mexico and Vancouver.
“Consulting is a business that you might work for three months and then you might be looking for work for four months, so its not steady, and when you’re involved with customers you really don’t see the end result. So this job came up and it was an opportunity to finally work with a group where I could also see the end results, and what we’re trying to achieve, and it brought me back to Canada,” said Leili.
According to Leili, there are three groups within the potato growers of Alberta that the PGA represents.
The first group are the potato growers that grow for the processing industry which is chips and french fries. Leili said that a lot of the fries a fast food customer would purchase at McDonald’s or Burger King are grown locally. The second group grow seed potatoes which has markets in the U.S., Mexico and other parts of Canada and there is a third and smaller group, the fresh table market, which is one of the groups Leili is working with to try to expand it. Leili noted that the potatoes a consumer would buy in the store and have for their own table would be grown by members of the PGA and would be a part of the fresh table market group.
“What we do is help the groups with market development. The association connects the groups to government in terms of legislation whether its labour or environmental issues. We get the information from the government and then we bring that to the growers,” said Leili.
“The PGA has been very successful here and what they’re trying to do is continue that success and they’re trying to take advantage of my marketing expertise. What we’re hoping we can do in the future is, to get Alberta potatoes and Alberta products as a whole, more exposed in to places outside of Alberta,” added Leili.
Leili said that the PGA is also responsible for getting information on what’s going on in the potato business in the rest of Canada and the U.S. while always being aware of where the PGA’s competitive position is. As for initiatives that Leili and the PGA are looking at, one is the organizing of packaging to make Alberta products a brand. Another is working on programs to alleviate the gap that exists in the area of agricultural research between theoretical research and practical on-the-farm research.
Currently, Leili lives in Lethbridge but the German-born former Ontario resident said the western hospitality he has received has been great and that the growers in the area and throughout the province have been friendly and hospitable and starting a new job in Alberta has been a very easy transition. Leili has a son that still resides in Ontario and he has two grandchildren. Leili’s wife continues to live and work in Mexico but upon retiring plans to move to Canada and the Leili’s will call Mexico and Canada home.