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Cruickshank’s year at the helm of IOF&VA was one for the books

The 12 months that separated 2016’s and 2017’s Idaho-Oregon Fruit and Vegetable Association’s annual June convention in McCall, ID, might have been just another year for some people, but for the Tiffany Cruickshank, the organization’s president throughout that period, it was time punctuated with a lot of milestones.

She was the youngest president to lead the organization, and while she was the second woman president in the history of the 55-year-old IOF&VA, she was the first to serve out the entire term and preside at its convention.page-22-tiffanycruickshank2016-17 Idaho-Oregon Fruit & Vegetable Association President Tiffany Cruickshank at the annual Industry Breakfast portion of the convention in McCall, ID.

The association, established in September 1962 as a non-profit corporation under the laws of the State of Idaho, “was formed primarily to give service to the produce shippers on matters pertaining to transportation and other relative industry problems, particularly matters arising out of the preparation, inspection, and the shipment of fresh fruit and vegetables,” its website says. Cruickshank is familiar with all crops produced in the area and is most connected to onions as a sales/marketing assistant and transportation manager at Snake River Produce in Nyssa, OR.

When asked what the most significant events and challenges of the year were, Cruickshank referred to the winter of 2016-17 and Snowmageddon.

“I like to refer to the packingsheds in our area as ‘friendly competitors,’” she said. “We are stronger as a collective unit, as an association. This past winter was unlike anything I have seen in my lifetime, and the challenges experienced by our membership were especially difficult. Not only were many dealing with collapsed packing sheds and onion storages, but also decreased production, the inability to pack and truck and rail troubles.”

Scores of buildings collapsed under the weight of record snow and ice build-up. Some produce operations lost storage buildings, and some lost their packing facilities. Very few made it through unscathed.

She continued, “Through it all, I was continually impressed with the resilience, creativity and tenacity with which the packing sheds in this valley approached each problem. Many sheds worked together — packing and hauling onions for other sheds and renting out additional facilities to those in need.

“The IOF&VA was mainly a resource, providing guidance about material and onion disposal from collapsed buildings in addition to gathering data about the number of buildings and onions lost during this most devastating winter. Our bi-weekly meetings took a more somber tone as we discussed new losses at each gathering, but like I said, the people in our association are made of tough stuff and are rebuilding, innovating and changing the industry for the better.”  

There were other issues that needed addressing during the year as well, and though the storm and its aftermath —farmers were kept out of their fields during planting season for weeks — matters such as labor and transportation came to the table.

“A viable work force is one of the larger concerns in the Treasure Valley as we struggle each season to fill the positions available,” Cruickshank said. “I support secure borders, but labor in Idaho and Eastern Oregon is in short supply. Removing migrant workforces makes it nearly impossible to take our products from harvest to consumer, and it puts the welfare of our growers, shippers, and the industries represented by the IOF&VA in jeopardy.”

She said, “I believe in a comprehensive immigration reform program for the continued success of agriculture and do not feel enforcement can precede reform. Because of these concerns, many local companies are automating and reducing their labor force. As our new administration looks at the big picture of immigration, I hope they make agriculture a priority.”

There is also the Food Safety Modernization Act, which Cruickshank said “has been a focus of committee efforts within the IOF&VA. The Industry Affairs Committee members, along with Executive Director, Candi Fitch, have been very active locally and on a national stage advocating for the industries represented by the IOF&VA with much success.”  

Her plate was definitely full, but Cruickshank managed to deal with the ongoing crises with professionalism and humor.

“I ate chocolate and drank wine — that’s how I dealt with the market and the snow!” she said with a follow-up “Ha!”

A Millennial by age but a produce veteran by experience, Cruickshank said the industry has “changed since I first started in onions in 2008, and I think our local industry reflects that.”

She explained, “There are more women and young people in the industry all the time. The IOF&VA Board of Directors now has three women, myself included, where five years ago I was only the second woman voted onto the board. And though we are all competitors, our industry is extremely collaborative and supportive. I have had a wonderful experience working with and getting to know the membership and staff throughout my years on the board of directors and this past year as president. During my tenure, we changed a few things while maintaining proven traditions.”

As she passed the gavel to incoming IOF&VA President John Orrison at the convention in McCall, Orrison said of his predecessor, “Tiffany always has an opinion. Tiffany always has an idea. And Tiffany is always the first to offer help when it is needed”.

She’s also quick to give credit to others.

“I also want to commend the IOF&VA staff. Executive Director Candi Fitch, Assistant Director Ann Jacops, Debbie Edgar and Susy Santos work behind the scenes, quietly achieving and at the same time enabling us to achieve. These individuals are integral to our continued success and helping the Idaho-Oregon Fruit & Vegetable Association flourish,” Cruickshank said.