The Idaho Potato Commission (IPC), Potatoes USA and the National Potato Council – all separate entities with distinct objectives – are adopting a three-pronged approach to advance potato sales nationwide and internationally by aggressively uniting to stress the nutritional value and benefits of spuds.
Established in 1937, the IPC promotes the “Grown in Idaho” seal, a federally registered trademark, and protects it from countries and other states who falsely claim their products actually are Idaho’s most famous cash crop, profiting on the esteemed reputation of the Gem State’s spuds.
(photo/From left to right, Michael Wenkel, Kimberly Breshears and Frank Muir discuss Idaho’s potato industry in Pocatello/by Mark Mendiola)
Potatoes USA, based in Denver, is the marketing organization for 2,500 commercial potato growers operating in the United States, promoting fresh table-stock potatoes, fresh chipping potatoes, seed potatoes, frozen potato products and dehydrated potato products.
The National Potato Council, a lobbying organization, advocates for the economic well-being of American potato growers on federal legislative, regulatory, environmental and trade issues.
Frank Muir, Idaho Potato Commission president and CEO; Kimberly Breshears, Potatoes USA marketing vice president, and Michael Wenkel, National Potato Council chief operating officer, appeared together as panelists at the recent 2020 Idaho Potato Conference at Idaho State University in Pocatello to discuss critical issues impacting Idaho’s $1.8 billion potato industry.
Randy Hardy, an Oakley farmer who has served on the National Potato Council’s executive committee, moderated the panel discussion. He asked the participants to explain their respective organizations, objectives and challenges. It was brought out that efforts are under way to persuade companies to build their next potato processing plants in Idaho.
Breshears said the sole mission of Potatoes USA is to strengthen the long-term demand for potatoes. “We are continually working on issues that impact the industry. … Part of our role is to protect the financial reputation of the potato industry.”
Boosting exports and increasing demand are always top priorities, Breshears said, noting 20 percent of American potatoes are exported. Potatoes USA meets regularly with food service, retail, culinary and school food representatives to get their input.
“The last three years potatoes have been ranked as the number one vegetable. A decade ago they were seventh or eighth on the list,” Breshears said, adding that Potatoes USA has been diligent the past two years refuting social media chatter that potatoes are fattening and high in carbohydrates, changing the dialogue. “We need carbohydrates … They actually help fuel performance.”
Referring to the National Potato Council, Wenkel replied: “We stand up for potatoes on Capitol Hill.” He added: “Despite what you may think is happening in D.C., there are a lot of good things happening in Washington.” The National Potato Council COO noted the new Farm Bill is loaded with benefits for farmers.
Wenkel commended the enactment of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, calling it “very important.” He also stressed the importance of monitoring Japanese tariffs and being able to identify gaps in research. The National Potato Council and Potatoes USA work closely to change negative perceptions of eating potatoes, he said.
At a recent American Farm Bureau convention attended by President Trump, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced on Michelle Obama’s birthday that her public school nutrition guidelines have been “basically thrown out the window. … All the Obama era guidelines are gone,” Wenkel said, pointing out students can now eat hamburgers and french fries for lunch.
The IPC and Potatoes USA both strongly emphasize the nutritional worth of potatoes, Muir said, remarking that IPC Vice President Patrick Kole spends about as much time in Washington as Trump.
Other states and nations as diverse as India and Uruguay continue to plagiarize the Idaho potatoes brand, Muir said, noting the IPC adheres to the same mission statement it issued about 17 years ago.
Muir stressed that the reputation and name recognition of Idaho potatoes are “important to you as growers. It’s your bottom line.” The IPC president said a research firm determined that when inflation is taken out, the trend line for potatoes has gone town the past 15 years in real dollars.
Idaho’s potato production adds about $1.8 billion to the state’s economy as opposed to $400 million 15 years ago, Muir said. Programs are modified to move the crops so potatoes are not dumped and fed to cows. The IPC’s public relations campaigns have been effective in getting potatoes added to restaurant menus.
Muir noted that Lamb-Weston has committed to supporting the “Grown in Idaho” brand. In 1981, only about 19 percent of respondents indicated they were familiar with the Idaho potato brand, but that since has climbed to nearly 90 percent. The “Grown in Idaho” brand is one of the most recognized names on the market, Muir said.
Potato USA, the IPC and the National Potato Council especially appreciate growers, Breshears said. “Growers are everything to us. Growers help us understand their challenges and concerns.”