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Foodservice opportunities for spuds increasing

As a member of the Colorado delegation to the 2018 Potato Expo in Orlando, FL, Jim Ehrlich, executive director of the Colorado Potato Administrative Committee in Monte Vista, said the show provided insight into “some real opportunities in foodservice."

He said, “More and more people are eating out again due to the improving economy, and the Millennial consumers especially want a food experience. Eating out gives that.”IMG 7087

In addition to restaurant dining on the rise, Ehrlich said, “There’s a changing retail landscape with the question of more online shopping coming up. It could be premature, but there are definitely a lot of opportunities for retailers to market product and also opportunities for fresh market shippers to work with retailers for online shipping.”

Ehrlich said he foresees more consolidation at retail, with the result being “retailers that are strong getting stronger.”

While CPAC and its marketing arm, Colorado Potatoes, continues to work with the region’s industry on advocacy and promotion, Ehrlich said research is also a major focal point.

“Our most important research project for 2018 is soil health. The specialty crop block grant project is starting its second year, and another top priority for us is plant breeding,” he said.

Looking ahead at the 2018 potato market, the director predicted the yellow market will continue to grow, and he said, “We will have more organic production here in this region as more ground complies with certification.”

The upcoming season, however, could see the continuation of dry conditions. More than 20 inches of snow falling in the San Juan Mountains to the west of the San Luis Valley in Colorado was a welcome sight over the Jan. 20-21 weekend, but the area as a whole remains well behind in average precipitation for the year.

Ehrlich said on Jan. 22 that if the lack of moisture continues, “it could potentially reduce our acres.”

Over the past several years the primary aquifer that provides water to the region has been regenerating, but Ehrlich said it’s been “in small gains.” He said this year so far the region has seen a significant shortage of snowfall, and he said, “We need 180 percent of average precip to get to an average water year, and we need to make up that amount between January and spring.”

That situation is one that Colorado is facing, but the industry as a whole, Ehrlich said, is contending with a number of issues, all of which “come back to profitability,” he said. “Right now transportation is a major problem, and trade is a big issue for the national industry. Also, there’s labor and the farm bill.”

Transportation, he said, “is a wreck.” Ehrlich said, “There is such a shortage of drivers, and they’ve raised their rates. Electronic logging devices are not the only factor, but they’re one factor. Several years ago, the National Potato Council predicted a shortage of drivers, and we’ve known it was coming, but we didn’t know how to fix it. Right now we’re working with Congress in getting the ELD rules extended. The root issue is looking at hours of services and how that is interpreted.” He said the fact ELDs are not standardized is also a consideration.

“Who knows how they’re calibrated,” he said. “It’s going to be a learning curve, and the solution will take more efficiency in loading and unloading.”

Ehrlich said labor is of universal importance, adding, “For this area it’s more about a workforce that wants to work. We’re not talking about migrants.”

Dealing with the multiple issues, Colorado still has seen shipments “tracking above last year,” and he said quantity is similar to 2016, “And I think we’re pretty much at the same supply level.”

The price increase is “encouraging for the industry. Supplies are down in certain areas, and Colorado’s price has improved for russets. Prices across the board are good.”