By DAVE WILKINS

Capital Press

The United Potato Growers of Idaho cooperative hopes to represent at least 80 percent of all fresh-potato acres in the state.

Growers were asked to sign new three-year agreements by the end of October as part of a recent membership drive.

The agreement requires members to purchase one preferred share of stock at $5 for every acre of potatoes grown in 2004. A grower with 800 acres of spuds would pay $4,000 to join.

The agreement also provides that the co-op's board of directors could assess an additional check-off, or marketing fee, to help finance operations.

The co-op plans to announce the results of the membership drive during grower meetings.

"We're still tallying the results," United President and CEO Jerry Wright said Nov. 2.

The co-op, which launched in 2004 in an effort to boost sagging fresh-potato prices, has focused on supply management through data collection, market analysis and planting guidelines.

The organization has conducted its own acreage count the past two years rather than rely solely on USDA estimates.

Leaders of the co-op have long maintained that they need at least 80 percent of the fresh-market acreage in Idaho to be effective. Failure to meet and maintain that goal could mean the dissolution of the co-op as it now exists.

A contingency clause in the new membership agreement specifies that growers can withdraw their commitment if the 80 percent target isn't met.

The Idaho co-op has spawned several spin-offs in recent years. There are now United potato co-ops in Oregon/Washington, Montana, Colorado, Wisconsin, the Klamath Basin and Kern County, Calif., all under the umbrella of United Potato Growers of America.

Staff writer Dave Wilkins is based in Twin Falls, Idaho. E-mail: dwilkins@capitalpress.com.

Grower meetings

United Potato Growers of Idaho will announce the results of its recent membership drive and what happens next at the following meetings, open to all growers, on Wednesday, Nov. 11:

* Burley, 9:30 a.m., Burley Inn

* Idaho Falls, 12:30 p.m., Shilo Inn

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