By MATTHEW WEAVER
National Potato Council leaders will determine their organization's next direction during the summer meeting, June 26-28 in Walla Walla, Wash.
Council CEO John Keeling said the mid-year meeting allows growers to get together and make adjustments to policy issues the council is working on, and set budgets.
Keeling expects a lot of discussion on the progress of the farm bill and immigration.
"We'll be asking our folks to weigh in with their members of Congress in terms of pushing for a solution that has an agricultural component that will guarantee us a guest worker program that's workable," he said. Keeling is also looking for a chance for workers who might not be fully documented to continue to work in agriculture.
Major provisions important to potatoes and other specialty crop producers are essentially in both versions of the farm bill, including increased funding for research initiatives and pest and disease management.
The Senate passed its farm bill. Keeling is hopeful the U.S. House of Representatives will take up its version shortly, so lawmakers can work out difference between the two measures in conference.
The potato industry prepared a guidance document for farmers on food safety issues for potatoes. The council will review the document, currently in the final review by academic and other food safety experts, and use it to create a checklist for growers. Keeling said the council will also take the document to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), encouraging use as an industry guideline to meet food safety documents.
The council has been working to reinstate white potatoes in the USDA Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). WIC allows purchase of any fresh whole or cut vegetables except for white potatoes.
Keeling believes there's more positive dialogue around the issue now, saying USDA's restriction was based on outdated consumption data that is no longer relevant.
"We've made a lot of progress educating members of Congress about that," he said, noting 17 U.S. senators and 97 members of the U.S. House of Representatives wrote to USDA asking for a new look at the regulations in the last year. "We're starting to build a nucleus of people who believe it should be fixed. Hopefully, that's going to influence USDA's decision making."