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Bill Schaefer Managing Editor
QUESTION OF THE MONTH

What issue represents your greatest concern for 2012?

 

1. Seed availability
2. Input costs
3. Labor
4. Other

 
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INDUSTRY NEWS
Potato production in Idaho for 2011 is predicted to total 127 million cwt., according to a press release from the United States Department...
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FMC Corporation announced that it has acquired Rovral iprodione and Sportak prochloraz fungicides from Bayer CropScience. The transaction includes...
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United Potato Growers of America (UPGA) announced that Jerry Wright will return to lead the grower-based organization as president and...
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Jerry Wright

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INDUSTRY NEWS
Jerry Wright to lead UPGA

The United Potato Growers of America announced that Jerry Wright, former leader of the United Potato Growers of Idaho and UPGA, will lead the national organization once again as president and CEO. Wright replaces Lee Frankel as president and CEO of UPGA.

While serving as CEO of UPGI Wright was instrumental in creating the national organization. During his previous tenure as CEO of UPGA in 2005 and 2006 Wright helped organize UPG cooperatives in Washington, Oregon, Colorado, California and Wisconsin.

“We feel fortunate to have Jerry return as CEO of United Potato Growers of America. His vision and energy helped establish this organization and we look forward to his proven leadership,” said Dave Warsh, current UPGA chairman, in the press release announcing Wright’s appointment.

Wright said that when the board contacted him they indicated that they wanted to make a strategic change.

“The change in direction is more than a subtle one. I want to get back to the basic founding principles that the organization was founded around,” Wright said. “First, the real sound and simple economic principles that you need to balance supply and demand. Second, we changed the fundamentals of the industry five years ago when we started supplying growers with accurate data that helped them understand what the true supply situation was and what the true demand situation was.”

UPGA anti-trust litigation

Chief U.S. District Court for Idaho Judge Lynn Winmill issued several rulings in the antitrust litigation against the United Potato Growers of America and several other organizations.

Winmill denied the motion to dismiss the lawsuit based on the Capper-Volstead Act and related statutes. Winmill granted motions to dismiss for defendants Dole Food Co. and United Potato Growers of Canada.

Winmill granted motions to dismiss for other defendants and organizations including, R.D. Offutt Co., Pleasant Valley Potato Inc., Potandon Produce LLC, Idahoan Foods LLC, Blaine Larsen Farms Inc., Driscoll, Potatoes Inc., Rigby Produce Inc. and Wada Farms Marketing Group LLC, as well as three separate business entities grouped as "Wada Farms", but he allowed the plaintiffs leave to amend their complaints against these defendants and organizations on or before Jan. 13, 2012.

INDUSTRY SPOTLIGHT
Wisconsin researchers lead SCRI grant

University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers Paul Bethke and A.J. Bussan are overseeing a team of 23 researchers in a two-year, $3.7 million Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) grant sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).

The SCRI grant, titled "Improved breeding and variety evaluation methods to reduct acrylamide content and increase quality potato products," was announced in October and represents a national effort by potato researchers and the industry to reduce acrylamide content in process potatoes. The stated goal is to reduce acrylamide levels in both potato chips and french fries through the development of new potato varieties. The research also could lead to unanticipated gains for other sectors of the industry, Bethke said.

Bethke and Bussan are faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in the Department of Horticulture. Bethke also is a research plant physiologist with the USDA's Agricultural Research Service.

Bethke, the project director for the grant, described the grant as possibly the largest concentration of potato researchers working on a single project and common goal. The grant also represents industry-wide research and Extension effort toward commercialization of improved potato varieties with focus on enhanced end-product value.

Bethke described his role as the point person for the research community and Bussan as the point person for communication with growers, processors and end users.

The project actually began in 2010 with funding provided by the U.S. Potato Board and chip processors for National Chip Processing Trials (NCPT). The SCRI funded activities begin in 2012 and are integrated with NCPT and National Fry Processing Trials (NFPT).

The entire process is scheduled for four years, and the grant will receive an additional $4 million for the final two years as long as the researchers meet their goals and file progress reports.

"The whole goal of this project is to get more involvement from every level of the industry sooner to really make sure all the voices that should be heard have an opportunity to be heard," Bethke said.

The SCRI Acrylamide Research Advisory Committee wanted to avoid repeating the experiences learned from Premier Russet where consumer attributes limited utilization for an otherwise outstanding variety.

"Premier Russet is this fantastic potato that didn't meet end-user expectations," Bethke said.

"It's very easy for a breeding program to assess things like color of a fried product or sugars of a raw product or disease resistance. Premier was exceptional in many ways," Bethke said, "but then you get to consumer attributes like taste and texture ... that are really dependent on the commercial scale processing line and the needs of the individual company. Those are things that we as a research community have a very hard time assessing."

That's why the research community across the country welcomes the involvement of the process industry toward commercialization of new chip and fry varieties.

There are many challenges during the course of these trials, but one of the biggest challenges is the compressed four-year time frame, Bussan said.

"We have very ambitious seed production goals that are part of these variety development and commercialization process," Bussan said.

"We're hoping that the grant provides us with an opportunity to address some of the challenges that we faced in the recent past with viruses and other issues in breeder seed and in the selection process," he said.

"That said, we have to make our decisions on lines we want to move forward right now so that we can produce seed, so that we have enough clean seed for field production in 2013. That's probably the biggest challenge," Bussan said.

"It's terribly compressed," said Bethke about the time frame. "I look at it as a terrific opportunity to see how much we can get done in a short time."

Bethke expressed confidence that the coordinated efforts of the researchers and industry partners will not only make inroads on the acrylamide issue but that their research will develop solutions for other problems.

"I'm quite confident we're going to make progress on the acrylamide problem," Bethke said. "How can we not? We've got a fantastic research team and a terrific advisory committee. We can also set a precedent for how we tackle some other big problems that show up in the future."

MARKET REPORT

Bruce Huffaker's North American Potato Market News reports U.S. Dec. 1 potato stocks to exceed 2010 inventories by 6.8 million cwt., a 2.8 percent increase.

The United States Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service reports that 939,200 acres of fall potatoes were harvested nationally, an increase of 57,400 acres from 2010.

According to NASS, total fall production was 387 million cwt., an increase of 20,890 cwt. from 2010. Yield in 2011 dropped to 412 cwt./acre, down from 2010's average of 416 cwt./acre, and a distant third place from the national record in 2009 of 429 cwt./acre.

Huckleberry Gold

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INDUSTRY INNOVATION
New variety — Huckleberry Gold

Potato Variety Management Institute announced the introduction of a tri-state new variety release, the Huckleberry Gold. Huckleberry Gold is a purple skin and yellow flesh specialty potato released by the breeding program in Aberdeen, Idaho, in collaboration with Oregon State University, Washington State University and USDA's Agricultural Research Service.

It resulted from a cross between Agria, a yellow variety, and a numbered line out of Colorado: COA94019-5R. It has medium-early maturity and medium yield potential. It is intended for the fresh-pack market. Huckleberry Gold is noted for its excellent culinary qualities and high level of antioxidants.

Mike Thornton said Huckleberry Gold does not require a lot of nitrogen fertilizer, has a relatively low tuber set but will get oversized if you grow it too long. It has a medium dormancy length and the skin color will fade in storage.

"I think this one's got a lot of potential in the fresh-market niche," Thornton said, "because of the bright purple skin and the dark yellow flesh. It's a unique combination."

"It's one of my favorite eating potatoes," Thornton said. "It expands the potato market more than it competes with the current offerings."

Compared to Yukon Gold, Huckleberry Gold is slightly less susceptible to common scab and verticillium wilt but slightly more susceptible to tuber early blight and soft rot, and more susceptible to foliar infections of potato leaf roll virus.


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