Packer 25 2020 — Shay Myers

Packer 25 2020 — Shay Myers

It wasn’t a given 15 years ago that Shay Myers would come back to run the family business after graduating college.

Myers, now the CEO for Parma, Idaho-based Owyhee Produce, recalled that he always loved farming and was always proud of being a farm kid, but that wasn’t enough for him to be sure that he wanted to take over the business someday.

As he approached graduation in 2005 and conducted entrepreneurial projects at school, however, he decided to do just that.

“It was that combination of legacy and business-building that kind of brought me back,” said Myers, who has been at the helm for Owyhee for about 15 years now.

At the start of his tenure, Myers led the company’s transition from growing onions for other packing and marketing operations to doing its own packing and marketing. Early on, he set 10-year goals for Owyhee, including packing one million bags of onions, growing to 1,000 acres of production, and offering a year-round onion program.

Those goals have been achieved in recent years, and Myers gives credit to his family’s support and his early introduction to hard work.

“The first time I was really made to work was spring break when I was 8; they were short a tractor driver,” Myers said. “From that point on, I knew that other people counted on me, and I learned how to work.”

Myers referenced author Malcolm Gladwell’s assertion that it takes 10,000 hours of work in any particular discipline to make someone an expert.

“I got to my 10,000 hours very quickly, partially because I had experience at a younger age but also because of the time I put in,” Myers said, describing his familiarity with 14-plus-hour days from growing up on a farm as both a blessing and a curse.

While Owyhee is known for onions, the company grows other crops also, including asparagus and sweet potatoes. Myers also started a whole-peeled onion company, Buck Naked Onions, to take onions that were imperfect on the outside and create with them a lower-labor product.

“The one thing about Shay that I’ve always appreciated over the years is his willingness to try something new and to look at other perspectives and at least give it a shot,” said marketing director Blake Branen, who has known Myers since middle school.

Myers has had a rising profile in the produce industry in recent years as his short videos for social media have gained a significant following. The videos feature Myers discussing different aspects of growing, harvesting and packing onions, covering a wide spate of topics, even ones that might be perceived as sensitive, like pesticides.

Because he’s confident in the company’s practices and stewardship, Myers has no problem explaining to anyone who will listen how the company farms and why, and he wants more people to learn about agriculture so they can understand the work that goes into it.

“When we don’t talk about reality as it is today, we do ourselves a disservice, we do the industry a disservice, and we do the consumer a disservice,” Myers said, “because how can we expect them to appreciate, to pay for and to consume what they don’t understand?”

Myers’ willingness to be an ambassador for the industry in this manner, posting videos not only for professional audiences on LinkedIn but on TikTok as well, led to him being a prominent source in mainstream media coverage in the early days of the pandemic, as he helped explain why growers had to discard product that suddenly didn’t have a market and why the solution unfortunately wasn’t as simple as just donating it to food banks or selling it to retail instead.

Myers received The Packer’s Produce Man of the Year Award in June.