KENNEWICK, Wash. — Expansion in the processing industry will create new dynamics for Washington and Oregon potato production, the leader of Washington’s potato commission says.
“We have incredible growing demand in Asia; we still have growing demand here domestically, and we’ve got to keep up with that,” said Chris Voigt, executive director of the Washington State Potato Commission. “We’ve had international customers on quotas for several years now; we just have not been able to get them enough frozen potato products overseas.”
Voigt gave an update during the annual conference for farmers from both states.
Solutions include increasing water to dryland farming in the Columbia Basin Project and increasing yields, which have been relatively flat in the past decade.
Washington potato yields average around 600 hundredweight per acre, or 30 tons per acre. The industry would like to average 40 tons per acre in the next 20 years, Voigt said.
The commission plans to focus on school meals, Voigt said. Currently, potatoes are on the menu 2.5 times a month for breakfast and lunch.
“There’s an opportunity there for real growth,” he said.
The commission will work with the Washington State School Nutrition Association to demonstrate affordable ways to deliver nutrition through potatoes, Voigt said. They will also provide national research showing that students who have potatoes for breakfast have improved cognitive skills.
The commission is working with Potatoes USA to connect potatoes with athletes, including information from people who use spuds in their training programs. The organizations are looking to create a Team Potato for trade shows, sponsoring athletes, Voigt said.
Priorities include improving research infrastructure in Pullman and Othello, and working with Washington State University and USDA Agricultural Research Service to fill key positions left open by researcher retirements, Voigt said.
Several commission members spoke in Olympia against four state bills proposed to restrict pesticide applications. Farmers would have to give four business days notice before applying pesticides, he said.
“Heaven (forbid) you find late blight on Thursday, because you’re going to have to wait Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and finally be able to spray on Wednesday,” Voigt said. “That’s unacceptable.”
Bill Brewer, president and CEO of the Oregon Potato Commission, said the state and national organizations work together to address problems and accomplish goals for the better of the industry.
Brewer announced the commission’s annual Goodness Unearthed awards. The best Russet was the Russet Burbank entered by Lane Farms of LaGrande. Chin Farms of Klamath Falls received the best yellow potato for the Yellow Natascha and the best red potato for the Red Jewell. Best specialty potato went to the Blushing Belle from Macy Farms in Culver.