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Facing Food Prices

The United Nations selected 2008 as the International Year of the Potato, not knowing there could be no better product to feature this year.

Food prices are increasing worldwide, driving many in developing African nations further into hunger and starvation and even causing food riots in countries closer to home, including an April riot in Haiti. A run on rice led U.S. retailers Wal-Mart and Costco to limit per person purchases.

The worldwide food situation can lead the humble potato to play a more important role in the agriculture and economies of the richest and poorest nations. The potato is the world’s No. 1 non-grain food commodity and is being hailed as the “food of the future” by the United Nations. The U.N. estimated that almost 360 million tons of potatoes were produced worldwide in 2007, with almost half of those grown in developing countries.

The potato has the potential to improve health – through high energy content and antioxidants – and to grow global economies. Because potatoes can produce more food on less land than corn, maize, wheat or rice, they are becoming a valuable cash crop in developing nations. Even in China, known for rice consumption, agricultural experts are recommending the potato be the major food crop grown on much of the nation’s arable land. China is already the largest producer of potatoes in the world,

International markets for U.S. growers are expanding, even as production increases elsewhere. The weak U.S. dollar makes exporting easier, but the quality and quantity of U.S.-grown products will ensure trade remains even if the dollar turns around.

The U.S. government and potato industry associations work with other countries on behalf of growers, but they can always use help to get U.S. potato products into new markets. New products created for a particular market will always be more successful than trying to market french fries or mashed potatoes to a customer unfamiliar with these products.

Take a look around as you travel, even if it’s just to your local ethnic restaurant. Are there items on the menu that potatoes could replace? In addition to the added health benefits, the potato could make menu items less expensive in the near future.

The potato has great potential to ease worldwide suffering as food prices increase, but there’s also the opportunity for marketers, shippers and processors to grow their businesses. New markets are out there, waiting for your products. Go find them and deliver the healthful and good potato.

Originally posted Friday, May. 30, 2008

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