Report: The Big Idaho Potato Harvest Meeting
Variety of potato industry topics touched on
By Lane Lindstrom
football players give their coach a celebratory bath of french fries dumped from an orange cooler

After two years of not being able to meet together in person, the Idaho Potato Commission’s annual The Big Idaho Potato Harvest Meeting took place in November with nearly 250 in attendance.

The Big Idaho Potato Harvest Meeting included an impressive lineup of industry experts who articulated a variety of topics from marketing to the state of the industry to research. While some of the meeting content was definitely focused on Idaho growers and the state on the industry in the Gem State, a good portion of the information presented pertains to the entire potato industry.

We’re focusing on a handful of speakers in this issue and will highlight the rest in our next issue. Yes, there was that much information.

headshot of Jamey Higham

Jamey Higham, President/CEO, Idaho Potato Commission
Higham, who has been on the job at the Idaho Potato Commission for just about a year, gave a report on all the goings on and marketing programs the IPC has going. He started by sharing a video of last year’s Famous Idaho Potato Truck tour with its iconic 4-ton potato in tow. Last year’s tour hit 60 cities and Higham said this year’s tour will be shorter because the IPC trimmed its budget in light of fewer acres planted in the state in 2022.

Here are some other highlights of Higham’s presentation.

Idaho Potato Bowl – “So one of our other activities that we do every year is the Idaho Potato Bowl. I’ll be honest, I was a skeptic of this when the commission first started doing it, but I think I was looking at it from the wrong perspective. The way I look at it now is a three and a half, four hour infomercial on Idaho potatoes that’s on ESPN, which is some of the guys who are watching ESPN, it’s the whole spectrum of our potential customers. And one of the iconic moments is the french fry dump instead of getting the cold Gatorade, the coach gets french fries. And that goes crazy on social media every year.”

Frites By Idaho – Higham talked about IPC’s promotion of a perfume that smells like french fries. The first batch sold out in four hours. It got a lot of media coverage and Higham was interviewed by Jay Leno on the Kelly Clarkson Show. “This past Valentine’s Day we decided to launch a promotion. We really didn’t know how it was going to go or what kind of success we would have. It was Frites by Idaho and it was a perfume that’s inspired by the smell of french fries. And so we put out a press release and we started doing our normal thing to promote stuff and it went absolutely nuts. I think it’s fair to say that this is probably, if not the most, one of the most successful promotions that the Idaho Potato Commission’s ever done. It was a great thing. We were able to estimate that we think we got $10 million of advertising and we spent less than $50,000 on the promotion. So those don’t happen very often. But that was a successful campaign. We want to be we want to be at the forefront of people’s thoughts when they think about potatoes; we want them to think about Idaho potatoes.”

Frites by Idaho: The Essence of Irresistible French Fries fragrance
IPC Social Media engagement

Social Media – Higham talked about IPC’s efforts to be very engaged on social media. “We want to create buzz around our Idaho potatoes. And the way we’re doing that now more and more is social media. We’re starting to see a shift in our advertising between TV commercials and social media. We cover these six platforms on social media: YouTube, Facebook, Pinterest, TikTok, Instagram and Twitter. And we’re always trying to do enough to not be annoying, but enough to stay relevant to the people who are following these.” website number of visitors slide
Idaho Potato Lovers Sweepstakes – Higham said the IPC will once again sponsor this promotion in February but “It’ll be more focused on the display rather than increasing volume.”
Idaho Potato Lover's Month display at a grocery store
IPC sales 17 international locations across a colorful map
International Sales – “We currently sell potatoes in potato products–this is fresh potatoes—in 17 countries. Our dehy and our frozen go into a lot more than that. We are adding it to our success, especially in Mexico. Mexico opened up this past year and there are potatoes going down into the very bottom of the central of Mexico and they’re paying a very good price point for those. We had a good promotion in the UK with some dehy potatoes.”
Spud Kings logo

Spud Kings – In December, 2022, the Idaho Falls Event Center opened up and is home to a minor league hockey team, the Idaho Falls Spud Kings. “So we’re going to be their presenting sponsor. We’re not sponsoring the building, but the team. So their uniforms are going to have our logo on their sleeves. We just think it’s where they’re going to be playing in five or six different states it’s another way to promote our brand around the country.”

Research – “This year we’re going to continue our focus on research. This year we will spend 23 percent on pathology, 13 percent on nematology, 4 percent on potato virus, 14 percent on entomology, 9 percent on cropping systems, plant pathology, necrosis and storage management, 25 percent on breeding and variety development and 12 percent on other research. But what I wanted to point out is the specialty crop block grant. The commission received half a million dollars from the State Department of Ag.” He said the focus will be on the bottleneck at processors in the inspecting and grading. “Bottlenecks slow everything down. So we’ve been tasked with coming up with a way to streamline that inspection process at our processors. The goal is we’re going to have less employees and more automation in that grading process and whether that’s optimal grading and sorting or what it might be, the end goal is that within the next three years we’ll have a pilot program in place with one of these processors to help move that system along.”

IPC Research Priorities 2022-2023 pie chart
Sustainability – “We’re probably past the point where we can ignore that anymore. This is a study that came out recently. It shows the greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram of food per kilogram. And when you look at that chart, when you go all the way down to the bottom, potatoes have the lowest footprint of all those different types of food, but people don’t know that. So our message, our goal as an industry is we need to get that message out there that we are sustainable. We need to show them the way that we are doing things currently. I think we are sustainable already. It’s just being able to show them how we’re doing it and the things that we do to make it possible.”
horizontal bar graph illustrating Greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram of food KG
headshot of Blair Richardson
Blair Richardson, CEO, Potatoes USA
Richardson began his remarks by sharing with the group that during his travels he’s seen seemingly more potatoes being shipped to the United States “not only from Canada, but also from the European Union.” He said, “We’ve got to start looking at ways to supply that demand because consumers in the United States want potatoes and potato products. They want them in many different ways. I just want to challenge people to think about that.”

Next he touched on what Potatoes USA is doing on the nutrition and culinary front. One area that really shines is Potatoes USA’s in-house kitchen. He said, “We even have a kitchen in our offices today that we’re able to work with food service operators, chefs from around the country and around the world as we’re promoting the use of potatoes.” He continued, “We added a new staff member, Bonnie Johnson, who is a registered dietitian and nutritionist who is now on board, who has focused fully on our nutritional and health outreach programs. And this includes all the efforts we do to fight back against misinterpretations or biased information about potatoes that are negative. We’re trying to remind people that potatoes are one of the most nutritious and beneficial foods out there.”

Potatoes USA reputation management objectives slide
Richardson added, “Bonnie’s responsibility is to reach out to those writers, those editors and the people who are talking about potatoes in a negative way and work with them to change their information, change their stories when they’re wrong, and then in the future, be a resource for them so that they can actually get the story right in the first place. We’ve made some significant advancement in that. Over the past year, we’ve reached about a 37 percent success rate of actually getting journalists and media groups to actually change what they publish after they publish it. Let me tell you, that’s not an easy thing to do, but because we have all the resources and information that we’ve invested in over the past decade with regards to potato research and education, we’re actually able to influence these people and make changes that are benefiting potatoes.”
headshot of Kam Quarles

Kam Quarles, CEO, NPC
Quarles touched on three main topics: potato imports from Prince Edward Island, the potato trade agreement with Mexico and the upcoming Farm Bill.

“As you remember, when we last sort of left this saga back in springtime, the U.S. and Canada agreed to allow exports from PEI to resume to the United States, not seed, but table stock. … The full extent of potato wart infestation is still unknown, but is likely to be larger than currently reported. APHIS has got to go back and redo that protocol. Exports have resumed and the risk continues to grow with every shipment.”

Moving on to the Mexico topic., Quarles said, “ … there naturally have been some disagreements over interpretations on the work plan that Mexico and the United States agreed to. And there’s been some kind of nuts and bolts that have needed to be sorted out. We’ve been slowly working through all that. Really at this point in time, we’re in the building of the market phase. It is a work in progress. We’ve got to recognize that our competition hasn’t gone away and they do have some cards to play here. There are some remaining legal cases. We have an excellent legal and regulatory team down in Mexico that’s working on these issues. They’ve been knocking down these straggling legal cases.

“But any one of those, if they can get a court to issue another injunction, the whole process stops again. So we can be successful 90 percent of the time but that one straggling case that’s out there, that shuts us down, it shuts us all down.”

With regards to the Farm Bill Quarles said the NPC is actively engaged in educating and providing information to key congressmen to ensure potatoes are well represented.