Editor’s note: This is the 14th and final story in a series exploring the opportunities and issues of potato growers across the region.
If you subscribe to Potatoes USA industry updates and market insights, it becomes very clear very quickly that this is one active organization.
One day you’ll read about the organization partnering with chef Garrett Berdan to create new potato breakfast recipes for schools across the country (trying saying “Breakfast Totchos to Go” five times).
That’s followed by a story touting a 3.7% boost in dollars spent on spuds in retail markets across the country in 2016, compared to 2015. And another showcasing new opportunities for U.S. potatoes in the Philippines.
Then there's a series on the organization’s annual meeting in Denver in March, which included appointments to the Potatoes USA national executive committee.
Potatoes USA, based in Denver, is the national marketing organization for approximately 2,500 commercial spud growers across the country. These growers produce fresh table-stock and chipping potatoes, seed potatoes, and both frozen and dehydrated potato products.
Among the many examples of the organization’s efforts to market U.S. potatoes is a reverse trade mission this summer that will bring current and potential buyers of U.S. seed potatoes to our country.
Potatoes USA and other potato organizations also hosted representatives from Vietnam and the Philippines last year on a reverse trade mission to the Pacific Northwest. Among those hosting the mission were Washington grower Mike Madsen, a board member of Potatoes USA and the Washington State Potato Commission; Ryan Holterhoff, WSPC director of marketing and industry affairs; and Ross Johnson, Potatoes USA global marketing manager for retail.
TATER TALK: Members of a fresh potato reverse trade mission to the Pacific Northwest learn about potato variety research taking place at Oregon State University.
“The mission resulted in Vietnam importing 162 metric tons of potatoes, compared to zero the previous year,” says Alexandra Grimm, Potatoes USA industry relations manager.
Other recent successes include greater access for chipping potatoes to Japan, and increased access for fresh and seed potatoes to a number of countries in Central America.
Members of the new executive board include the chairman, John Halverson of Arbyrd, Mo.; immediate past chairman, Mike Pink of Mesa, Wash.; and the chairs of five committees (domestic marketing, international marketing, research, industry outreach and finance).
Pink, who is actively involved on both state and national potato boards, has been part of the Washington potato industry for 27 years. He and his crews grow Ranger, Umatilla and Alturas russet varieties for the frozen and processing markets.
Other crops grown on the highly diversified farm include sweet, field and seed corn; sunflowers; wheat; buckwheat; alfalfa; green peas; and grass seed. In addition, the farm raises cattle.
Below are the national committee members appointed in March from the Western Farmer-Stockman region.
Domestic marketing: Jerry Tominaga of Rupert, Idaho, and David Tonso of Monte Vista, Colo., co-chairmen. Tominaga, a third-generation farmer and owner of Southwind Farms, has been growing potatoes for 37 years. He primarily focuses on specialty varieties such as fingerlings and round marbles for table-stock and frozen processing. Tonso has been involved with the potato industry in southern Colorado for 33 years. He is the regional sales manager for RPE-Colorado. RPE, headquartered in Wisconsin, is one of the largest fresh potato companies in the U.S.
International marketing: Marty Myers of Boardman, Ore., and Doug Poe of Connell, Wash., co-chairmen. Myers works for Threemile Canyon Farms, focusing on the chip, seed and frozen sectors. He is the northwest business manager for RD Offutt Co., managing farm, dairy and processing operations in Oregon, Washington and Nevada. He is a fifth-generation Oregonian and has spent 22 years farming potatoes. Poe owns Poe Ag LLC and works as a farm manager at RHD Inc. He has been growing potatoes for the last 10 years, primarily Umatilla, Burbank, Ranger and Clearwater russets for frozen processing.
Research: Dan Moss of Declo, Idaho, co-chairman with Steve Gangwish of Kearney, Neb. Moss is CEO of Moss Ag, which grows potatoes for the fresh, frozen and seed sectors. Also a packer and shipper, Moss has been farming for 47 years and primarily grows russet varieties. Blair Richardson is CEO of Potatoes USA, which works closely with the National Potato Council and state potato organizations.
Oregon growers touting spuds overseas
Potatoes are big business in Oregon, where approximately 100 commercial potato farms annually produce nearly 2.5 billion pounds of spuds on 40,000 acres. Depending on the year, this ranks Oregon fourth or fifth in the country in potato production.
“The farm-gate value (or the dollars received by those 100 farms) of potato production in our state is $180 million,” says Dan Chin, a Klamath Falls farmer who is chairman of the Oregon Potato Commission.
The numbers begin climbing from there. The value of potato production after processing and packing is $510 million, with exports accounting for nearly 65% of sales.
When adding up all the numbers, including direct and indirect employment, the Oregon potato industry has a total economic output of $1.2 billion.
“The Oregon Potato Commission continues to be one of the leaders expanding potatoes to new international markets,” Chin says. “This requires visits to new countries allowing market access for potatoes.”
OPC members participate on trade missions to learn the needs and uses for Oregon potatoes in newly opened markets.
“Our commission helps develop relationships with importers and consumers, and then we match suppliers with users. In some cases, OPC demonstrates potato dishes and preparation methods not used in that country,” Chin says.
“Our commission also hosts reverse trade missions that bring international buyers to Oregon," he says. "Representatives from other countries participating in RTMs normally visit Oregon potato farms, packing facilities and Oregon State University research stations.”
OPC formed in 1949 to represent the potato industry in educational activities, trade development, research, legislative affairs and public relations.
Growers from five potato-producing districts in Oregon are appointed to serve as commissioners.
In addition to Dan Chin, commission members representing the five districts include Lon Baley, Malin, Klamath Basin District; Nels Iverson, Jefferson, Willamette Valley District; Mike Macy, Culver, Central Oregon District; Marty Myers, Boardman, and Dan Walchli, Hermiston, Blue Mountain District; and Rob Wagstaff, Nyssa, Malheur District.
Other members include Mark Ward, Baker, vice chairman, member at large; Leif Benson, Welches, public member; and Jeff Urbach, Hermiston, handler member.
Iverson, whose term ends June 30, will be honored this year for serving on the OPC for 26 years. He first served from 1982 through 1992, and was elected again in 2001.
Bill Brewer is OPC’s administrative director.
Colorado big player in fresh potato market
Colorado, which produces about 2.2 billion pounds of spuds annually, ranks sixth in the country in potato production behind Idaho (14.2), Washington (9.6), Wisconsin (2.9), North Dakota (2.5) and Oregon (2.3), according to the National Potato Council.
Most of the growers are in the San Luis Valley of south-central Colorado, the second-largest fresh potato-growing region in the U.S. Here, about 150 potato-growing families take advantage of mild temperatures, sunshine nearly every day of the growing season and mineral-rich soils. About 95% of the crop is shipped to the nation’s fresh market.
The state’s growers and shippers are represented by the Colorado Potato Administrative Committee, based in Monte Vista. Founded in 1941, CPAC focuses on quality standards, sustainability best practices, research and marketing.
Jim Ehrlich, executive director of the Colorado Potato Administrative Committee, says that several challenges are keeping his organization busy. Among them:
• The CPAC works cooperatively to reduce irrigation pumping, to keep state and regional groundwater aquifers sustainable indefinitely.
• The CPAC opens international markets for fresh potato exports, particularly the Mexican market, where artificial phytosanitary barriers limit the capability of growers in Colorado and other states to export fresh potatoes to the entire country of Mexico.
• The CPAC partners with Colorado State University’s potato research team to develop improved potato varieties that are disease-resistant and require fewer inputs, including fertilizer and water.
• The CPAC educates consumers with the truth about potato nutrition. “No fat, no cholesterol, no sodium, good fiber content and more potassium than any other vegetable in the produce aisle,” Ehrlich says.
Board members of the Colorado Potato Administrative Committee include commercial grower representatives Cory Myers and Tyler Mitchell, Alamosa County; Jared Smith, Conejos/Costilla counties; Mark Peterson and Roger Mix, Rio Grande County; and Sheldon Rockey and Kent Palmgren, Saguache County; seed grower representative Bob Mattive, Monte Vista; independent handler representatives Kurt Holland and Dwayne Weyers, both of Center, and David Tonso, Monte Vista; bulk shipper representatives Brian Harrison, Center, and Doug Cooper, Monte Vista; Sue Coleman, Portland, Ore., marketing specialist for USDA Agricultural Marketing Service; and Glenda Mostek, Broomfield, Colo., marketing specialist for the Colorado Department of Agriculture.
Colorado grows more than 125 potato cultivars
The Colorado Certified Potato Growers Association represents growers who enter seed potatoes for certification by the Colorado Potato Certification Service.
Association President Patrick Brownell, who farms near Hooper, says south-central Colorado’s San Luis Valley is home to an internationally successful potato breeding program.
Recently, much emphasis has been placed on developing traits in new cultivars, including better flavor, high vitamin and antioxidant content and improved horticultural characteristics.
Colorado seed producers grow more than 125 cultivars. Among the most popular are Canela Russet; Rio Grande Russet; Russet Norkotah selections 3, 296 and 8; Classic Russet; Centennial Russet; LaRatte; Yukon Gold; and Chipeta.
In addition to Brownell, other association board members include Grant Mattive, Monte Vista, vice president; Kent Price, Center, secretary-treasurer; Matt Seger of Del Norte, Bruce Heersink of Monte Vista, Brendon Rockey of Center and Roger Mix of Center, directors; and Clay Mitchell and Jeff McCullough, both of Monte Vista, commercial representatives. Preston Stanley is the association manager, while Andrew Houser is manager of the Colorado Potato Certification Service.