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Washington gets early jump on potato movement

The 2013 season ramped up early for Washington's potato producers. "Year to date, shipments have been running a little ahead of schedule compared to recent years," said Chris Voigt, executive director of the Washington State Potato Commission. "Most of this is due to early season movement in July and August when potato supplies were very short across the country."

Voigt said Washington's fresh producers account for 26,000 acres of the 160,000 acres Chris-VoigtChris Voigtplanted to potatoes in the Evergreen State. "This has been very consistent over the course of the last few years," he went on to say. "About half of that total are russet potatoes, and the other half is a mix of reds, yellows, whites and other specialty potatoes."

Quality reports are good, but reveal that sizing is a little inconsistent. "Some fields had a smaller than normal potato set and the tubers grew big, while other fields had a normal set but the high summer heat produced smaller than normal tubers," Voigt explained. "We'll have a better idea of our size distribution as we start pulling more potatoes out of storage."

Ryan Holterhoff, the WSPC's director of marketing and industry affairs, said he expects this year's harvest will be on par with prior years once figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service are released.

With strong movement domestically, Washington continues its work to move fresh potatoes offshore. "The WSPC will be participating in a governor-led trade mission to China in November," Holterhoff said. "Gov. Jay Inslee will lead a trade delegation of about 40 people from a variety of business sectors including those representing agriculture products. The trade mission will provide an opportunity to continue to explore the possibility of fresh potato access from Washington and other states into China. The trade mission will also provide a chance to celebrate the successes and relationships that the Washington potato industry has developed with China relating to our processed potato products."

The WSPC is also focusing on grant opportunities to keep spuds moving. "We have a combination of fresh and processed grants that help us target international markets," Holterhoff said. "Buyers, distributors and retailers from various international regions submit applications on programs they would run to help promote Washington potatoes abroad. The top proposals are selected, and we provide matching funds up to a certain level to help with their efforts."

The commission is also collaborating with other farm groups in Washington to focus on the state's agricultural bounty and its amazing food scene. "The campaign is called 'Washington Grown' and although the overarching theme of Washington Grown is to help people throughout the state understand the importance agriculture has to Washington, it has also provided the opportunity to help people reconnect with the great bounty of fresh local options found here," Holterhoff commented.

Under the program, the WSPC has highlighted potato growers and local chefs who use Washington potatoes in their recipes. Consumers have also been able to access recipes that contain Washington potatoes.