Potato growers honor outspoken couple

Karlene and Randy Hardy Karlene and Randy Hardy visit Washington, D.C., to lobby against proposed limitations on potatoes and other starchy vegetables in school lunches. The couple won the title of growers of the year by Potato Growers of Idaho.

Activists honored for efforts to maintain, grow market

By JOHN O'CONNELL

Capital Press

POCATELLO, Idaho -- Randy and Karlene Hardy have lobbied officials in Washington, D.C., to keep spuds on school lunch menus and guided Mr. Potato Head during the Macy's Day Parade.

As vice president of trade affairs with the National Potato Council, Randy Hardy has also pushed for improved trade with Mexico, an important foreign market for Western growers.

The Hardys, who farm 2,800 acres in Oakley, have been named growers of the year by the Potato Growers of Idaho. They were to receive their award Jan. 18 at the Pocatello Red Lion Hotel following a fundraising auction to benefit the Idaho Potato Industry Political Action Committee. Dirk Parkinson, of St. Anthony, was chosen as this year's seed grower of the year.

Randy Hardy is a former U.S. Potato Board chairman, and Karlene Hardy is a current board member of the group.

"Randy has a quiet manner that pulls people together," said Keith Esplin, PGI's executive director.

Randy Hardy, a fresh market grower, is chairman of the board of Sun Valley Potato Growers, Inc., a grower-owned cooperative. He's on the board of directors of United II Potato Growers of Idaho, formed when growers bought into Idahoan Foods.

In his capacity with NPC, he lobbied the U.S. government to resolve a trade dispute that led to an 18 percent tariff on frozen U.S. potato products entering Mexico. The tariff was in response to a U.S. restriction on admitting Mexican trucks into the country. Since the tariff was lifted in October, he said the U.S. has reclaimed about 40 percent of the Mexican export market it lost to Canada.

He said a priority for next year will be opening all of Mexico to fresh U.S. potatoes. Currently, he explained fresh potatoes may only be imported 26 kilometers into the country.

"We think it's getting close to resolution, and the impact to Western producers is significant," he said.

Karlene Hardy spent much of her time this year making phone calls and appeals on local radio programs for the national campaign against new limitations on potatoes and other starchy vegetables in school lunches. The proposed USDA nutrition guidelines were soundly defeated.

"When we were in Washington, D.C., this last year ... rather than us just showing up and present our case and, 'Let's take a picture,' they were listening," she said.

The Hardys helped gather responses from school district personnel, who overwhelmingly opposed the changes.

"That looked like that was about to be stuffed down our throats," Randy Hardy said.

Parkinson is a member of the United Potato Growers of Idaho Seed District Executive Committee, which seeks to manage supply by encouraging growers to take dehydrated contracts when the market is saturated. He's also on the board of directors of Idaho Crop Improvement, which addresses challenges facing the seed industry for several crops.

"Over the past several years we've been solving a pretty bad (potato virus Y) problem. That's been the big one and we've gotten that under control over the past three or four seasons," Parkinson said.

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