Amanda Leo: International Potato Expert and Dedicated Show Mom
By Sally Long
*This Women In Ag feature originally appeared in our Winter Ranch House Journal. Never miss another issue, subscribe to the magazine here.
From growing potatoes to raising club calves, Amanda Leo and her family aim to produce the quality that sets the foundation and enriches the lives of others in the agricultural industry.
Amanda grew up in a farming family and spent her weekends in the show ring. From early on she developed a passion for both industries. Following graduation from California State University in 2000, she went to work for their family operation on a “temporary” basis, she laughs at the fact she is still there 17 years later.
The family business includes three different entities: Cal-Ore Seed, Inc., Cal-Ore Global, Inc. and Discovery Garden’s LLC. Cal-Ore Seed Inc. is a grower, packer, shipper and broker of seed potatoes, conventional potatoes, organic potatoes, hay, garlic and onions. Cal-Ore Global, Inc. handles all of their international potato shipments, plus some fruit farming (citrus, grapes, and apples). Discovery Garden’s LLC is responsible for the domestic retail sales of their proprietary potato varieties; varieties that are specialized and they have the exclusive rights to grow and/or market. Her current role within the family business is serving as their Controller. She does everything from taking care of the company’s financial documents, to serving as the human resources department and much more.
Amanda and her family have become experts in international agriculture, and leading promoters of the U.S. potato, which she credits to the commitment and dedication of her father and brother. “Our success in the export business is because of the knowledge, hard work and pure perseverance of my dad, Rob Campbell and my brother, Mark Campbell,” said Amanda. “In a family farming operation you either succeed together or fail together and because of these two incredible men we have succeeded.”
Currently Cal-Ore Global Inc. has approximately 500 containers of chipping potatoes contracted with international customers. These potatoes will be loaded into 40-foot refrigerated ocean containers and shipped from the port in Tacoma, Washington or Seattle, Washington to Indonesia, Japan, Korea and Taiwan. The average transit time is anywhere from 14 to 30 days, depending on the destination. Each container will hold around 52,000 pounds of potatoes.
Although their international expansion has certainly created new opportunities, Amanda warns it comes with increased challenges and risks. “Farming and ranching is already a full risk-sport, but exporting products really takes it to the next level,” she said.
So how does one develop an international market? For those exploring the opportunity of adding an international dynamic to their business, Amanda has some words of wisdom.
First, do your homework. Knowing your customer, their culture, and the importing requirements of the country and region are a necessity, she said. “If possible, visit the customer prior to shipment,” she advises. She also recommends discussing how your product will be processed or used, and how payment will be made.
Second, Amanda recommended to start small. “The learning curve for exporting is huge, just the paperwork alone is enough to overwhelm the most accomplished business professional. A small error can cause a huge nightmare when overseas customs officials get involved,” Amanda said. Her advice, “ask that a sample of all required documents be provided before entering into a contract. Then ask yourself, can you meet all these requirements?”
Finally, Amanda feels that developing very strong relationships with your national commodity council or breed association, state agencies, and national agencies have been a huge asset. “In order to successfully export any agricultural product you must have a good team in place,” she said. “This means at your facility, and at every point along the chain. We work closely with our state inspection agencies as well as national agencies,” said Amanda. “A successful export shipment is great but few realize that a failed export shipment can cripple the entire U.S. export supply chain.”
In addition to her role as Controller within the family operation; Amanda, her husband, and their two sons own and operate Leo Bros. Show Steers. They currently run over 100 cows and market an average of 45 club calves per year. Their oldest son Brody, age 11, is already on a jackpot circuit and in his 3rd year with 4-H. Youngest son, Tristan, age 7, is eagerly awaiting his debut in the show ring and loves to help in the barn. “The club calf business is not how we make a living, but it is what we love,” said Amanda.
Both Cal-Ore and Leo Bros. Show Steers share the same core values. Although they cater to different sectors within the agricultural industry, their commonalities are what make Amanda passionate about them both.
They’re both driven by repeat business, Amanda said. “The best compliment is a repeat customer,” she said. Whether it is being trusted with a show calf prospect or marketing your crop to the retailer, for the Leos, having customers reinvest in their operation year-after-year is the ultimate compliment.
She’s also realized that your biggest competitor can be your best friend. In both raising club calves and crops, competition drives producers to generate a better product. Ultimately, you are advocating for the advancement of the industry, not just your own success, which enables close friendships among competitors, she said.
Finally, she feels a supportive network is key in their success. “Whether it is a calf with a cough or seed variety struggling to flourish, knowing you could pick up the phone and have a handful of people willing to help you means a lot,” said Amanda.
Whether it be in the barn or the boardroom, Amanda Leo is a woman that gets things done. She and her family are committed to progressing agriculture through the quality of the products they produce. We are proud to work with Amanda and her family in their show steer program, and salute her, and the many outstanding women in agriculture making a difference.