By MATTHEW WEAVER
CONNELL, Wash. -- The U.S. Potato Board's new leader says his top priorities are finding a new CEO for the organization and spreading the word about the nutritional value of potatoes.
Rob Davis, president of RHD Inc., in Connell, Wash., was elected as the Potato Board's chairman earlier this month. He will serve for a year.
The board is the nation's potato marketing and research organization. Based in Denver, it represents more than 2,500 potato growers and handlers.
Davis said first priority is finding a replacement for the organization's CEO, Tim O'Connor, who departs April 1. The board has hired a company to help search for a replacement. Davis said he hopes to have a replacement hired by July 1.
He also sees a need to educate consumers about the healthful attributes of potatoes in a bid to increase domestic demand.
"We need to get over the hurdle that people don't believe potatoes are healthy for you," Davis said.
While Washington Potato Commission executive director Chris Voigt's 60-day all-potato diet drew attention to the nutritional benefits of potatoes, Davis said that he'd like to see more high-profile efforts to educate the public.
Davis also pointed out that potatoes are a large source of potassium -- more than broccoli or bananas.
"Once they're made into french fries, that potassium doesn't go away -- it gets condensed, because now you've extracted moisture from the potato," Davis said. "You're left with even more potassium on a per-ounce basis than a fresh potato alone."
The board is working with major potato processors on a new partnership, the Alliance for Potato Research and Education, called APRE, to increase awareness of the potato's healthful attributes. The program is getting under way with more than $1 million in research in progress.
Davis, 37, is a first-generation grower. He started farming on his own in 2006, after working for another farmer.
"I like the aspect of preparing the ground, planting the seed and watching it grow," he said. "Although you can't ever control the weather, you can control how the crop is grown."
Davis, who is headquartered in Connell, farms roughly 6,000 acres spread around the region.
Potato industry leadership runs in the family. Brother-in-law Randy Mullen is this year's National Potato Council president, and their father-in-law, Allen Olberding, is also a former president of the council.
"There's not very many family functions that we don't talk about potatoes," he said.