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Laura Wilder will be next administrator of Idaho Barley Commission

By Sean Ellis

Idaho Farm Bureau Federation

BOISE – Laura Wilder will replace Kelly Olson as administrator of the Idaho Barley Commission, which is tasked with promoting and marketing the state’s $270 million barley crop.  

Olson, who is retiring at the end of July after 24 years as IBC administrator, will be sorely missed, barley commissioners told Idaho Farm Bureau Federation.

But in Wilder, who has served as executive director of the Idaho FFA Foundation for the past 10 years, they believe they have found a suitable replacement.

The four-member commission interviewed several good candidates but Wilder’s work experience and life-long involvement with Idaho agriculture stood out, they said.

“We interviewed several people and they were all good candidates, but she just seemed to stand out,” said IBC Commissioner Wes Hubbard, a North Idaho barley producer. “I’m confident we picked somebody who is really going to represent Idaho barley well.”

Prior to taking over as executive director of the Idaho FFA Foundation, which provides financial support to FFA members, Wilder served as executive director and special projects coordinator for the Idaho Beef Council, which, like the barley commission, is supported by farmer checkoff dollars.

She grew up on a cattle ranch in Caldwell that also grew alfalfa hay, silage corn and pasture, and currently lives on a small sheep farm in Meridian with her husband, Steve, who is an ag education teacher. 

Wilder, who was involved in 4-H and FFA programs as a youth, is president of a ditch company and involved with water issues. She has a degree in ag journalism with other major coursework in ag education from Texas A&M University.

“My roots are deep in Idaho agriculture,” she said. “Ag advocacy has been a lifelong passion of mine.”

Timothy Pella, the industry representative on the commission, said Wilder “has the perfect work experience.”

“As a board, we were really impressed with her,” said Pella, program manager at Anheuser-Busch’s Idaho Falls elevator. “I think working with the growers will come naturally to her.”

IBC Commissioner Scott Brown, an East Idaho grower, said board members were impressed with Wilder’s knowledge and enthusiasm.

“We think she’s a great hire and will be a great replacement for Kelly,” he said.

Wilder will start her new job June 11 and work side by side with Olson until she leaves at the end of July.

“I’ll be trying to learn as much as I can from her because she has been a very visionary and strong leader,” Wilder said. “I know that the time spent with her will be time very well spent.”

Idaho is the nation’s top barley producing state and Gem State farmers produced 48 million bushels of barley last year on 510,000 acres.

About 75 percent of the state’s crop is malt barley and used to make beer, while the rest is food barley or used as feed barley for the livestock industry.

While malt barley will continue to be the biggest segment of the Idaho industry, food barley acres in the state are increasing rapidly and Wilder said she’s excited about the opportunity to help that sector of the industry continue to grow.

Last year, Olson and the commissioners created a food barley initiative that seeks to focus on the development of new food barley products.

During her time with the beef council, Wilder worked closely with health professionals and the school food-service industry and she believes that experience will help her promote food barley.

“I look forward to getting the message out about the health benefits of food barley and looking for more marketing opportunities for food barley,” Wilder said. “There are a lot of strong health claims for barley being important to help control heart disease, manage diabetes and control weight. Now we just need more products because the market is growing, not just domestically but internationally as well.”

Brown said the commission sees “a big and growing market for food barley. I think we have an opportunity to sell a lot more food barley than we currently do. It’s just a matter of getting the programs started and getting growers to grow it.”

About half of the commission’s annual $700,000 budget is directed toward research and Wilder said she looks forward to continuing to ensure grower checkoff dollars are used to help solve growers’ agronomic challenges.

“I feel the barley commission has spent their money well in investing in research,” she said.

One of her first orders of business will be helping the commission develop a comprehensive communications plan that seeks to promote barley to the public and communicate with and educate growers. 

Wilder said she believes strongly that farmers have a right to see the value of their checkoff dollars maximized.

“I really love working with growers and I look forward to doing work that is going to benefit them and help them be more successful,” she said. “I love the opportunity to get out and interact with them directly, to understand what their needs are and then to work on programs to help them in the future.”