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50 Years: Top 10 List

50 Years: Top 10 List

It's hard to believe Spudman is 50 years old this year and even harder to think about all of the challenges the industry has gone through over the past five decades to remain prosperous.

I spent some time looking over hundreds of issues of Spudman magazines and came up with a list of the Top 10 Most Significant Influences on the potato industry.

#10 - Government price supports. Beginning in 1941 and through the World War II years, potatoes received mandatory government price supports. They were to last through the wars years and two years after. This led to huge surpluses and the dumping of potatoes that cost the government several hundred million dollars and damaged markets for nearly a decade.

#9 - Food Quality Protection Act. The implementation of the most comprehensive and historic overhaul of the nation's pesticide and food safety laws in decades in 1996 leading to the banning of many crop protection tools that growers had relied on.

#8 - GMO potatoes. Some of the first ads promoting NatureMark's GMO potato varieties that were resistant to Colorado potato beetle and the potato leafroll virus first appeared in this magazine in the late 1990s. U.S. potato growers began planting them in 1995 and acreage quickly reached 55,000 acres by 1998. But they quickly disappeared over the next three years when quick service restaurants and processors suddenly refused to buy GM potatoes and they were pulled off the market in 2001. Monsanto owns the technology and it is sitting on the shelf ready to be unveiled at anytime. At some point they will be reintroduced and will have a big impact on the industry.

#7 - Colorado potato beetle resistance. This pest with a legendary ability to develop resistance has reared its ugly head many times in the potato industry. Growers tried trapping the beetle in ditches and flaming them to death, using tap crops and crop rotations. I don't think one pest has ever created so many issues for growers.

#6 - USDA's push to limit the serving of potatoes in school meals. In 2010 the USDA decided potatoes weren't good for kids and tried to severely limit their use in school lunch programs. Led by the one-two punch of NPC and USPB along with state potato organizations, the industry wins the school lunch fight in November 2011 when a bipartisan Senate amendment was adopted prohibiting the use of USDA funds to implement rules that would set maximum serving limits on vegetables, including potatoes, in school meal programs.

#5 - Low-carb diet craze. In the early 2000s the low-carb diet craze put a dent in potato sales and the spud's image and prices.

#4 - 20 Potatoes A Day for 60 Days. Washington State Potato Commission Executive Director Chris Voigt's potato diet was perhaps the greatest positive public relation feat the industry has ever witnessed. More than 583,000 results will pop up if you Google it. There are stories from all over the world and all major news organizations. Genius!

#3 - National Potato Council. In 1948 the nation's 45,000 potato growers were concerned with the growing role of micromanagement of the agricultural markets by the government and formed the NPC. The potato industry would never have survived the onslaught of government regulations without their tenacity in Washington D.C. for the past six decades.

#2 - United States Potato Board. The continued disparagement of the nutritional value of the potato seems to be the biggest issue that continues to dog the industry. In 1972 the National Potato Promotion Board (now the U.S. Potato Board) was officially formed to turn around public opinion that potatoes were unhealthy. They have done an amazing job all these years to keep pounding home the healthy message of the potato and will always be needed.

#1 - United Potato Growers of America. Led by the foresight of Idaho growers to form the United Fresh Potato Growers of Idaho in 2004 and then followed by the national group in 2005, the cooperatives' mission is to manage potato supply, matching it to demand to help their growers receive a reasonable price for their product. Keeping supply and demand in check has always been the industries top issue and its good to see growers getting together to keep potatoes profitable.

It's been privilege to guide Spudman through its fourth decade and now into its fifth. The industry is now united and focused on keeping production in line and continuing to drive home the healthy potato message. Thanks to all the growers, industry leaders and our advertising partners who have helped Spudman over the past 50 years. We couldn't have done it without you!

—By Matt McCallum, publisher

Originally posted Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2012

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