Grower Q&A: Chris Voigt, Washington State Potato Commission

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Building on Buffalo
I'm in Buffalo, N.Y., this week, as potato researchers from across the United States are meeting. The meeting location is an appropriate site, as the city’s history is a great metaphor for the potato industry.  

In it’s early history, Buffalo had a competitive advantage over other cities because of it’s proximity to the Erie Canal and cheaper energy costs from the Niagara hydroelectric plant. But over the years, industrial manufacturing moved away and the city’s crime rates and other indicators of a dying city rose.  

But through the work of government, businesses and concerned citizens, Buffalo has undergone revitalization by investing in smart ways and focusing on what the area’s advantages are.  

The researchers and Extension personnel at the Potato Association of America’s meeting in Buffalo are doing the same. They’re sharing information on ways to improve fresh and processing potato growing and storage practices in the face of rising input costs, including the timing of controlled-release nitrogen from Bryan Hopkins from Brigham Young University and the use of ethylene gas to control sprouts in storage from Steve Johnson from Maine Cooperative Extension.  

The many topics and agricultural tours being held this week in Buffalo will encourage cooperation among university researchers and will spur new ideas in potato research. Investing in research and working with Extension can help a farm reduce its overhead costs and improve profitability, an important goal in today's economy.
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Grower Q&A
Chris Voigt,
Washington State Potato Commission
 
Congress recently funded an aquifer project in the Columbia Basin. What was that project and how will it help potato growers in the area?  
This is an aquifer that pretty much covers most of eastern Washington and in parts of it there are wells going dry.  

Back in the 1930s, they started building the Grand Coulee Dam but the problem is they only built half of it. They built all of the dam, but part of the construction was to provide water to agriculture and that was never completed. That day has never come and it’s unlikely they’ll finish it in my lifetime.  

So in the meantime, the state issued dryland permits to farmers could drill down and pump out water, and now those wells are going dry.  

Why is that a problem for potato growers in the area?  
Potatoes grown on this ground are the ones processors really rely on for storage. It’s important that we address these issues for the potato growers. We have to solve the water crisis here.  

The area is called the Odessa sub-area and what is happening is the Bureau of Reclamation is starting its third year of a five-year study. The project will cost $1.2 million a year for the five years. The state kicks in $600,000 and the federal government kicks in $500,000 a year.  

But the federal government hasn’t been paying its share, so Congress boosted what it’s kicking in for a total of $1 million to make up for what it hasn’t been paying.  

The study is great because it looks at the most cost-effective way to get water to the area.  

Are there any other research projects going on?  
There’s the Potholes Supplemental Feed Route. Within the Columbia Basin there are three irrigation districts. There’s a canal on the east that is essentially delivering most of the southern area’s water.  

The big concern was what if something happened to that canal, then the eastern and southern districts would be without water.  

A study was just completed last year and it found that instead of running water down the canal you can run water down an old creek bed, which feeds into some lakes and eventually delivers water to the area.  

As a side benefit, now that they don’t have to run water down the eastern canal, they can run more water and get water out to those wells that are going dry.  

The Senate has approved $3 million and the House has approved $1 million but there hasn’t been a vote yet. That’s money that will be used to start construction. Even though it’s an old creek bed, there’s still construction that has to be done.  

They have to harden the surface outside the dam because if you were to run water around a dam it would erode and possibly cause a safety issue.  

The total project will be about $20 million, but a large portion of that will go toward purchasing easements around that creek bed. Some of it’s dry and some has a little bit of water, but the owners will have to be reimbursed for using their land.  

When will construction start?  
It’s kind of up to Congress. Congress is unlikely to approve any appropriations this year, except for Homeland Security. They will probably pass a continuing resolution that keeps the government going but won’t approve any new resolutions until after the new administration takes office.  

Will either candidate’s administration have an affect on the project?  
Possibly, but not likely. Congress has already spoken, but it is essentially an earmark so depending on how the administration views earmarks the president could veto it. TEXT

 

Market Report
Growers spent an average of $125,600 on farm expenditures in 2007, an increase of more than $10,000 from the previous year, according to USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). In total, U.S. farmers spent more than $260 million on farm expenditures, up from $236 million in 2006.  

Over the last 10 years, farm expenditures have increased nearly 52 percent. In 1998, growers spent $84,000 on farm expenses.  

The biggest expense for U.S. growers was chemicals, fertilizers and seed, according to the August report. Nearly $39 million was spent on those inputs, which accounted for almost 15 percent of growers’ expenditures. Farm services accounted for 13 percent of expenditures, labor was 10 percent, rent was 7 percent, machinery was 6 percent and fuel accounted for 5 percent of farm expenditures.  

Fuel expenditures total about $6,100 per farm, almost triple what farmers paid in 1998. The biggest increases in fuel costs have occurred since 2003, when growers spent just over $3,000 a year on fuel. Since 2003, fuel costs have risen by about $1,000 a year. About 60 percent of the farm fuel costs were for diesel fuel, according to NASS.

 

Ore-Ida Steam N' Mash
PICTURE Ore-Ida, a Heinz company, has introduced a classic potato side dish in a convenient package to meet the needs of today’s consumers.  

Steam N’ Mash mashed potatoes are available in four varieties including Cut Russet, Garlic Seasoned, Three Cheese and Sweet Potatoes. The new line of frozen potato products is microwaveable and requires little preparation time.  

Steam-in-bag packaging in the frozen food category has seen tremendous growth in recent months, and the Steam N’ Mash potatoes offer retail customers a quick, convenient side dish.  

The package is a stand-up pouch featuring a proprietary laminated structure with in-register laser venting to create a microwaveable bag that stands up to the higher heat levels attained in the cooking process. The high-impact pouch billboards the brand and product image in 10-color flexographic reverse printing. The package is produced by Alcan Packaging.