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The EPA is soliciting nominations for its agricultural advisory group, the Farm Ranch, and Rural...
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Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack appointed 33 representatives to the National Potato Promotion Board. Members serve a three-year term...
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The USDA is conducting a four-week Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) general sign-up March 12 through April 6...
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John Keeling

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Standing up for potatoes

Last week's four-day National Potato Council's Potato D.C. Fly-In in Washington, D.C., was an invigorating exercise.

It was filled with informative sessions with Congressional representatives from both the Senate and House, federal policy makers from the USDA, the Senate Agriculture Committee and Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, as well as private consultants and journalists covering agriculture and politics.

Discussions centered on a number of potato industry topics. While celebrating the success of keeping potatoes in school lunch programs, attendees were warned to be vigilant. Both the breakfast program and the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) programs continue to place restrictions on potatoes. Fresh market access to Mexico, the state of the Farm Bill and funding for Specialty Crop block grants were just some of the topics explored.

Over the course of two days, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Ohio, commended the entire potato industry as well as school nutritionists for their efforts in stopping the USDA's efforts to limit potatoes in school lunch programs.

Sen. Collins said that USDA's arbitrary and nonessential limits would send a message to the public that the potato is unhealthy.

"It made absolutely no sense, from a nutritional perspective, for the USDA to go down this route," said Collins, noting that the school lunch victory should be encouraging because it reveals what grassroots efforts and education can accomplish.

"Common sense can prevail, even in Washington," she said. "Your voice is heard and it does make a difference."

The following morning, Udall extolled the bipartisanship that helped propel efforts to rescind the USDA school lunch proposal. In addition to his Senate colleagues working across party lines, he said, industry members' visits to Washington were very important in helping inform the lawmakers about results of their legislative actions. Senators Udall and Collins co-sponsored the amendment that prevented the USDA from implementing the nutritional measure.

"We don't play for the blue team or the red team, we work for the red, white and blue," Udall said.

The Farm Bill

Peterson gave little hope that the Farm Bill would reach the House floor for a vote before the November elections.

"The honest answer is 'we have no idea,'" Peterson said. "I think we'll get a good bill out of committee, but I'm concerned about what will happen on the floor.

"If it doesn't get done by May, June, it won't get done."

Schmidt echoed Peterson's sentiments about passage of a farm bill this spring.

"I hate to be a naysayer," she said, "but prospects to get a farm bill is dim."

Advising the audience that they have to educate people back home on the merits of the Farm Bill, Schmidt closed by thanking the growers for providing the country with a "healthy, affordable food item called the potato."

Update on Mexico

Speaking on fresh-market access to Mexico, Ed Avalos, USDA undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs, said Mexico continues to thwart U.S. efforts to meet their phyto-sanitary demands. Delegations from the two countries met in December, but could not come to an agreement.

"We need help from Mexican merchants," said Avalos. "They can make a difference."

Avalos said that dialog and communications remain open in an effort to resolve the current differences.

U.S. trade outlook

Ambassador Islam Siddiqui, chief agriculture negotiator for the Office of U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), said the future of U.S. trade looks very bright. Siddiqui said that U.S. agriculture accounted for $137.4 billion in exports last year and that fresh market access to Mexico could be worth $150 million to U.S. potato interests.

It's an issue that both USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and the USTR have made a high priority, Siddiqui said.

To view photos of the Fly-In, visit

Idaho growers reject process contract

Idaho process growers rejected contracts for the 2012 season extended by ConAgra Foods Lamb Weston and the J.R. Simplot Co. The companies offered growers a 10.7 percent increase over 2011 contracts.

Dan Hargraves, executive director of the Southern Idaho Potato Cooperative (SIPCO), said that the organization originally was seeking a 15 percent increase from the three processing companies. McCain Foods USA had tendered an offer of 13.4 percent, contingent upon ConAgra and Simplot agreeing to the same terms.

Additionally, the three process companies wanted to include new language in the contract to reject potatoes for zebra chip defects.

Hargraves said that with production costs averaging about $3,000 an acre, no growers could accept the risk of zebra chip rejection without additional compensation for the inputs necessary to protect potato crops from psyllids, the insect that carries the bacteria responsible for zebra chip.

Hargraves said that growers in 2012 are facing rampant inflation and rising fuel costs, along with zebra chip defects.

According to Hargraves, they hadn't even included zebra chip costs in their budget numbers and the original cost of production.

"We were willing to take that off of our margin requirements," Hargraves said, "but we felt that the level that McCain agreed to was our bottom line. We didn't want to go below that.

"It's unfortunate. We would have liked to have had an agreement that worked for both sides. We're disappointed. That's the best way I can describe it."

Hargraves said that following the rejection of the contracts, the companies indicated that they would not be making revised offers. He expects they will be going directly to growers with the contracts.

Doug Gross, president of SIPCO, said that a small percentage of potatoes coming out of storage in western Idaho now are showing signs of zebra chip.

Gross said that growers in western Idaho will have to step up their systemic insecticide program to combat the likelihood of more psyllid outbreaks in 2012. He also noted that they are counting on assistance from the University of Idaho with scouting and insect trapping.

"We're budgeting to have to spend $75 to $150 more per acre on insect control than we spent in 2011," said Gross, who is hoping that growers and processors will yet bridge their contract differences.

"There's still time for more discussions with the processors," Gross said.

Nate Schroeder, a potato grower in southeast Idaho, said he heard that some of the contract incentives would have been hard to meet.

"You'd almost have to have the ultimate perfect spud," Schroeder said. "It's going to be interesting. They (processors) haven't talked to me yet."

Over in Wisconsin, Duane Maatz, executive director of the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association, said that there has been no real progress in contract talks with McCain, but they have discussed new avenues beneficial to both growers and processor.

"Every week that goes by, the price of potatoes goes up," said Maatz, "because the cost of production is going up every day."

Maatz said that with temperatures in the 60's this week, planting season is fast approaching and farmers are going to have to decide what to plant.

"The decision now that is being made is, 'Am I going to grow a competing crop or am I going to grow French fry potatoes?'" said Maatz.

Maatz hopes to have further negotiations with McCain this week.  

While process negotiations in Wisconsin have just begun, Dana Wright, executive director of the Agricultural Bargaining Council of Maine, expressed concern with current contract offers in the West.

"Maine is watching developments in Idaho and Wisconsin," said Wright. "We're concerned about these areas. Wisconsin is going to be big for us."

In another important story coming out of Maine, Wright said the retirement of Sen. Olympia Snowe is a big loss for potato growers there.

"We'll miss her," said Wright. "She and Sen. Collins worked well together and were a strong voice for the potato industry."

Trinity Trailers

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New truck beds by Trinity Trailers

Boise, Idaho-based Trinity Trailer Manufacturing Inc., introduced a new generation of lightweight Eagle Bridge stainless steel spud beds.

The truck beds are available in lengths between 20 feet and 30 feet, with 25-inch or 31-inch belt widths to handle potatoes, beets or grains. The bed also is available in carbon steel. A 20-foot bed, depending on features, typically will weigh less than 4,500 pounds.

The new generation truck beds feature the Trinity Trailer chain and flap unload system, which reduces belt slippage in muddy or sloppy conditions and unloads with minimal bruising.

The new gear pump and the 7.5-horsepower electric motor generate fast unload speeds. It is also available with PTO. The new side door has eliminated latches, allowing the doors to open and shut smoothly without jamming. The inside shelf of the side door also has been removed.

For more information, visit or call John Christopherson at 800-235-6577.

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