Published online: Dec 20, 2007 University of Idaho
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POCATELLO, Idaho--The future of American agriculture has never been brighter, says Jay Lehr, author, motivational speaker, Heartland Institute science director and keynote speaker at the University of Idaho's Potato Conference. The event takes place Jan. 23-24 in Pocatello.

Author of 17 books on environmental or water resources topics, Lehr says, "We have 6.3 billion people on the planet and a third of them are undernourished." Within 50 years, "we'll need to double our food supply--and we are the best farmers, we have the best land and we have the best technology." If the U.S. government can effectively reduce trade barriers, Lehr projects that the "lion's share" of new marketing opportunities will go to American farmers.

In a presentation sponsored by the Idaho Potato Commission with a grant from the USDA Risk Management Agency, Lehr will encourage Idaho potato growers to "fight back and be more outspoken" about what Lehr calls "a huge amount of misinformation with regard to the health aspects of potatoes." He will also describe his concerns about conflicting environmental, health and agronomic audits that impose "tremendous" paperwork burdens on the nation's producers. And, as a groundwater specialist with a Ph.D. in groundwater hydrology from the University of Arizona, he will note the progress that American farmers have made towards reducing their industry's water demands through drip irrigation, plant breeding and other technologies.

Because he says the "No. 1 crop of our farms isn't potatoes, it's kids," Lehr will also describe the role he believes technology will play in keeping those kids on the farm. "We are becoming a high-tech industry, and when kids see that we are part of the telecommunications revolution, we can be more exciting to them."

At the Idaho Potato Commission, president and chief executive officer Frank Muir says, "We're excited to have found a speaker who embraces all these timely topics. He provides critical insights into immediate challenges that are forefront for Idaho potato growers."

In another presentation, sponsored by the Potato Growers of Idaho with a grant from the USDA Risk Management Agency, family business consultant Mike Salisbury will tell conference participants how to increase the odds of successful generation-to-generation farm transitions.

"People think it's an event--that if you get your estate plan done then you've got your succession plan done--but it's a process," says Salisbury, vice president of Salisbury Management Services. Key to that process is both generations having an open dialogue about their shared dreams and vision for the farm.

"To have shared dreams, a family must be able to communicate and deal with conflict," Salisbury says. "It's incumbent on the senior generation to clearly articulate the farm's vision for the successor generation in order to generate enthusiasm and help them feel that they can be part of something big."

The Potato Conference, held at Idaho State University's Pond Student Union Building, is scheduled for 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 23, and 8 a.m.-noon Thursday, Jan. 24. In-state registration is $15 until Jan. 4 and $20 at the door. Out-of-state participants pay $75 until Jan. 4 and $90 at the door.

More information is available online at or through conference chair Phil Nolte at (208) 529-8376 or in Idaho Falls. Along with numerous seminars and workshops on current topics in potato production and marketing, the conference will once again include Spanish-language workshops for Hispanic farm workers on such topics as potato diseases, soil sampling, integrated pest management, fumigation, pesticide handling and Good Agricultural Practices audits. The Idaho State Department of Agriculture partners in these Spanish workshops.
In addition to the Idaho Potato Commission and Potato Growers of Idaho, the conference is presented in cooperation with Spectra Productions, Raw Products Committee of Idaho, Idaho Center for Potato Research and Education, Idaho Grower Shippers Association, Idaho State University, Association of Commerce and Industry and trade fair exhibitors.