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Center, CO, potato grower seated to U.S. Potato Board during annual meeting

by Kathleen Thomas Gaspar | April 22, 2009
Following a November 2008 appointment by former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer, Roger Christensen, a Center, CO, potato grower, was formally seated as a board member on the U.S. Potato Board during the board's annual meeting in Denver.

The March 10-13 gathering, which was the board's 37th annual, saw representatives from the nation's potato-growing states seated and new leadership elected.

Mr. Christensen was quoted as saying that he credited his father-in-law, third-generation farmer Lynn Kopfman, for his introduction to farming and the potato industry. For more than a decade, Mr. Christensen has been a grower of fresh-market russet Norkotahs, Sangre reds and Santina yellows on about 1,000 acres for Kopfman Farms and Valley Shippers.

In addition to seating new board members, the board also elected new leadership, with Tom Qualey of Sherman, ME, named to the chairman's position.

Domestic marketing co-chairmen are Todd Michael of Urbana, OH, and Shane Webster of Rexburg, ID. Committee members are Carl Ball of Lewisville, ID; Kent Bitter of Shelley, ID; Tom Campbell of Grafton, ND; Ernie Ford of Center, CO; Sanjiv Kakkar of Lawrenceville, NJ; James Hoff of Idaho Falls, ID; Rodney Lenz of Wray, CO; John Probasco of Chesterfield, NJ; Kevin Searle of Shelley, ID; Tim Stevenson of Lake Delton, WI; and Tim Young of Howard City, MI.

Co-chairing the international marketing committee are Lon Baley of Malin, OR, and Cheryl Koompin of American Falls, ID. Committee members are Molly Connors of Richland, WA; Rob Davis of Connell, WA; Eric Halverson of Grand Forks, ND; Mike Pink of Pasco, WA; Ritchey Toevs of Aberdeen, ID; and Steven Whited of Bridgewater, ME.

Co-chairmen of the industry communications and policy committee are Jimmy Harrell of Elizabeth City, NC, and Monty Smith of Blanca, CO. Committee members are Troy Betz of Hermiston, OR; Andy Diercks of Coloma, WI; Keith Labrie of Saint Agatha, ME; and Ron Lehr of Edison, CA. Sid Staunton of Othello, WA, was chosen chairman of the finance committee, and serving on that committee are Chris Olsen of Othello and Bruce Richardson of Capeville, VA.

The board also voted to increase the potato assessment rate by half a cent, bringing the total to 3 cents per hundredweight. Growers and handlers could begin paying that new assessment in spring 2010 at the earliest. The assessment goes to fund demand-building programs, and several such programs were cited during the meeting.

Foodservice seminars held by the board at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley, CA, have seen attendance by 52 chefs representing 45 restaurant chains, and a survey has shown that 40 percent of those chefs are developing or have already added new potato items to their menus.

Additionally, fast-track retail programs developed by the board have been shown effective in increasing both consumer reconnect and sales of potatoes, and the "Potatoes... Goodness Unearthed" campaign has seen good reception as it takes the nutritional message to women with children at home.

A press release from the board stated, "During FY2008, U.S. potatoes and potato products exports exceeded $1 billion, supported by the USPB's market access and development initiatives."