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New National Potato Council CEO outlines strategy

npc quarles wenkel

The National Potato Council’s new executive staff will be well known to its members.

The current vice president of public policy and communications for the NPC, Kam Quarles, will become the new CEO May 15, and Mike Wenkel, the executive director of the Michigan Potato Industry Commission, will join the same time as chief operations officer.

Longtime CEO John Keeling plans to retire at the end of June after 17 years leading the council.

“There’s never been an NPC in DC without John Keeling,” Quarles said April 8.

He said because of the leadership Keeling gave the council, it necessitated a reset of the staff and strategy, which Quarles and Wenkel will bring.

Quarles said the recently passed farm bill was beneficial to the potato industry, and now the biggest issue facing potato growers is trade.

“We have about $700 million annually in vulnerability if trade disputes go the wrong way,” he said, noting that about 20 percent of each year’s crop needs to find an export market.

Wenkel said his main duties will be member outreach and managing the annual potato expo, which is slated for Las Vegas in January.

“Having been able to work in the potato industry the last seven years, I’m looking forward to applying my knowledge and skills to the national level,” he said April 8.

He said he is moving from Michigan to DC and plans to be settled full time in NPC’s office at least by July 1.

Quarles said in the short term, he’ll be working with government leaders on keeping open markets, especially with the U.S.’s neighbors.

He said the potato industry would lose about $200 million if the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement fails and the U.S. pulls out of NAFTA.

“With trade, things are very tenuous,” he said.

Quarles has served in his current role since December 2016. Prior to joining the council staff, he served as the lead agriculture lobbyist for the international law firm of McDermott Will & Emery for clients including the National Potato Council, the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association, Sunkist Growers, Chiquita Brands International, the California Avocado Commission and other specialty crop interests.

He also previously served as vice president for the United Fresh Produce Association and vice president of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives.

Wenkel joined the staff of the Michigan Potato Industry Commission in August 2012 as the executive director and oversees research, promotional and educational activities for the industry. Additionally, he manages legislative activities for the Potato Growers of Michigan, Inc., a nonprofit consisting of potato producers across the state.

The new executive staff join Hollee Alexander, senior director of programs and events, and Hillary Hutchins, manager of programs and events.

“I’m extremely pleased to make this announcement of such a strong executive team. The NPC has delivered great value for our industry during its time in Washington, D.C. Kam and Mike share our goals of enhancing that value long into the future,” said Larry Alsum, President of Alsum Farms & Produce and the 2019 NPC president, in a news release.


Greg Johnson is Director of Media Development for Blue Book Services.