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Posts published in “Day: February 2, 2020”

Potato futures


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.”

Rage and grief


In the aftermath of the Senate vote to disallow witnesses in the impeachment trial of president Trump, I feel both numbing rage and profound grief. My anger is directed at the GOP senators who willingly buried their heads in the sand, blithely putting party before country, and knowingly propping up a guilty, unstable narcissist demonstrably mad with power.

Likewise, my grief comes at the hands of these same senators, who – whether out of pathetic fear or simply a shameless need to run with their pack – have struck a deeply wounding blow to our republic. It feels almost, but not quite, like a death.

Our republic is on life support. It seems it can no longer breathe on its own, and – if given the chance – Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell and their cohort would smother it in its sleep. After all, that is what they have been doing, albeit in slow motion, for years.

They have been venal and corruptible and contemptible. They have shown themselves to care far more for unfettered power than for the rule of law. You will recall that McConnell refused Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court, so much as a hearing. And why was that?

McConnell simply declared it wrong for the Senate to consider a nominee in a presidential election year. But merely months ago, when asked what the Senate would do in the event of a vacancy on the court this election year, McConnell grinned a hypocritical grin and said, “Oh, we’d fill it.”

And in that terse soundbite McConnell admitted that for three years he had only been pretending to act on principle. The truth was clear: McConnell had buried the Garland nomination because Garland was nominated by a Democrat. Now that a Republican is in the White House, McConnell’s concern about a president filling a Supreme Court judicial vacancy in an election year has vanished. It was never about principle. It was always about raw power.

The Democratic House managers cautioned the Republican senators that their actions in this just-for-show trial would set a chilling precedent, that by sanctioning Trump’s egregious conduct they would be affirming his decidedly dictatorial statement that, as president, he can “do whatever I want.” They cautioned that the same norm would have to apply to other presidents, going forward, including Democratic presidents. I could almost hear McConnell chuckling in his beer. “Yeah, right,” he would mutter, “when hell freezes over.”

So, now it’s up to us, we the people. It always has been really. None of us can successfully vanquish evil alone; thankfully, we are in this fight together.

And through our rage and grief, we would do well to remember the words of Martin Luther King Jr., an exemplar of resilience and resistance. Long ago he taught us: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Thus, we can condemn the crime and the cover-up and those who callously perpetrated both while loving our republic and staying true to its highest, founding principles. After all, patients on life support can, and do, recover.

So, on this day full of rage and grief, let us not abandon hope. Let us rededicate ourselves to winning back our country by building on our majority in the House, flipping the Senate, and electing a Democratic president. Let us go forward with renewed determination to ensure that we revive our republic.