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Export, education opportunities abound for Washington potatoes

by Lora Abcarian | January 04, 2011
Matt Harris, director of trade for the Washington State Potato Commission, said that the state's potato producers will likely see increased export opportunities in 2011.

"The Canadian crop in British Columbia had significant problems because of weather," he told The Produce News Jan. 3. Additionally, failure of the potato crop in Russia has other European producers moving to fill the gap.

Looking at British Columbia, he said that producers were dealing with a wet crop. "If you put any wet potatoes into storage, you're asking for trouble," he said. Owing to crop conditions, he said, Canadian producers worked to move their potatoes into the marketplace as quickly as possible to minimize storage-related problems.

Mr. Harris said that there already has been a 13 percent rise in potatoes entering Canada. Exports to North America, Central America and the Pacific Rim increased 27 percent from July through Dec. 31, 2010. Emerging markets include Hong Kong/Macau and South Korea.

On the education front, WSPC Assistant Director Karen Bonaudi said that the organization's "Kids Are Growing" greenhouse competition has been highly successful. Speaking of 2010, she told The Produce News, "It's been the best we've ever had." Elementary school children compete for a limited number of greenhouses, which help the children understand how food is grown. The program has received increased coverage on radio and television. "The messages are clearly getting out there," she added.

The commission is also revamping its culinary arts curriculum, adding teaching sections and modules. In February, staff will have a booth at the Food Education Network Conference in Chicago. "We will put out a survey in attendee packets to ask what they're missing in their curricula," Ms. Bonaudi said. "What we can do is be ahead of the curve [on this]."

The commission is also contracting to have some new healthy potato recipes developed for consumers based upon the "20 Potatoes a Day Diet" that Mr. Voigt went on last October.

Finally, WSPC researcher Andrew Jensen said that ongoing research is focusing on the causes of silver scurf and black rot. Both diseases cause surface blemishes to potatoes. Although the blemishes do not affect eating quality, receivers often seek to renegotiate product price when blemished product is received. Mr. Harris observed, "It costs the industry a lot."