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California grower to lead U.S. potato board

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Staunton says he will continue the work to improve the spud's image, boost exports



By JOHN O'CONNELL



Capital Press



U.S. Potato Board members have chosen California grower Sid Staunton as their new chairman.



The Tulelake man, who farms 6,000 acres in the Klamath Basin along the Oregon border, was selected by a nominating committee and approved by the organization's 100-member board during its annual meeting March 14-16 in Colorado Springs, Colo. He'll serve a one-year term.



He replaced Ohio grower Todd Michael, who will continue work for the board as the immediate past chairman.



Staunton's email inbox has filled rapidly in the few days since he started the job. He said his brothers and his 27-year-old son help run the farm, enabling him to devote the necessary time to the position.



Staunton plans to follow his organization's long-range plan to improve the image of the potato and increase demand domestically and pursue new opportunities with foreign markets.



He believes the U.S. Potato Board, through cooperative works with other industry organizations, has raised awareness about the health benefits of spuds. He noted 35 percent of the American public had a negative view of potatoes in 2004, at the height of the Atkins diet craze. Nowadays, about 18 percent of U.S. residents have a negative opinion about potatoes, about the same as in 2001.



He also believes great strides have been made with U.S. potato exports. When he first joined the board in 2007, he said one in 12 U.S. spud rows were exported to foreign markets. Currently, one in six rows are shipped abroad. Recent successes have been made in opening Vietnam to U.S. potatoes, he said.



"Really our shining star is our international program. That one we really work hard to work with countries that are opening up exports to U.S. products," Staunton said.



Aberdeen, Idaho, farmer Ritchey Toevs was retained as co-chairman of the board's international committee. Toevs believes Staunton will build upon efforts that have made consumers "look at the potato as a nutrient-dense vegetable rather than a calorie-laden starch."



"Sid's whole family is involved 100 percent in making the whole industry better. With every (industry) effort ... they've stepped up and put in time with leadership," Toevs said. "I think Sid will be really good for us."



"He's been highly involved in our leadership. He's been on our executive committee, he's chaired our domestic marketing committee, and he's really in a solid position to continue to move the industry forward along our long-range plan and the knowledge of what's been done before," added Tim O'Connor, president and CEO of U.S. Potato Board.



O'Connor said the organization is half way through the first year of a five-year long-range plan.



At the meeting, the board also voted to retain its 3-cent per hundredweight grower fee. Between grower assessments and funding from the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, the board's annual budget is just shy of $20 million.



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