Industry Members Gather for First Potato Expo

Sustainability a key topic

Published in the March 2009 Issue Published online: Mar 30, 2009
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Potato expoIndustry members met in San Antonio in early January for Potato Expo 2009, the first combined set of meetings for the major potato organizations in the country.

At the helm of the gathering-which was focused on "Achieving a Sustainable Future"-were the National Potato Council and the United States Potato Board.

Meetings were held Jan. 7-9 in the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, a massive structure in the heart of San Antonio and walking distance to The Alamo and celebrated River Walk.

Along with various break-out sessions devoted to central industry issues, attendees were able to attend presentations by six speakers in the Expo's general sessions.

The first speaker to address a group in a general session was Gene Kahn, vice president, global sustainability officer for General Mills, Inc. His background includes experience with organic farming and the General Mills acquisition of Small Planet Foods. He spoke of sustainability in production.

Following Kahn's general session presentation on Jan. 8, Mike Boehlje, Ph.D., addressed the audience. He is a professor at Purdue University in the Department of Agricultural Economics and the Center for Good and Agricultural Business. Boehlje's remarks were on planning in the areas of economics and management.

On the afternoon of Jan. 8, Sharon Bomer, executive vice president of the Food and Agriculture Section of Biotechnology Industry Organization, spoke. She talked about GMO's standing with consumers.

Bill Whitacre of J.R. Simplot Company also brought a message to attendees. His topic was about the fertilizer side of the industry. He also spoke of the Simplot company's namesake, John Richard "Jack" Simplot, who died last year.

On Jan. 9 Garth Blanchard, leader of the U.S. National Brands Operations Product Management Team for Monsanto, spoke in a general session on new technology's impact on sustainability.

Next Jolene Brown shared a presentation of "Stop the Fighting on the Way to the Funeral Home!," a humorous and straight-forward take on handling issues in a family-owned business.

Seed Sector Breakout Session Part of Expo

Grower-led committee made arrangements

A grower led steering-committee, which included seed grower representation, selected the topics and the speakers for the Potato Expo 2009 Seed Sector Breakout.

The sessions were presented in a format equal to what the nation's seed industry has come to expect from decades' worth of quality National Potato Council Seed Seminars, one of the three meetings consolidated by the industry into Potato Expo.

Andrew Lavigne, president and CEO of the American Seed Trade Association, presented "Developments in the Plant Variety Protection Act and the Role of Proprietary Varieties."

"Markets continue to demand innovation," he said. "Breeding and technology can improve yields and increase nutritional quality. Plant breeding will continue to be a necessity for the potato industry."

"All the Seed Sector Breakout speakers were very informative about pests and diseases affecting the entire potato industry," said Meghan Kolassa, NPC director of government affairs.

"The potato industry's valued academia partners did a fabulous job presenting their research and projects dealing with a full range of seed topics. Their audience was attentive, engaged and well informed. Many of the presentations continued with additional discussions beyond the breakout session."


This year's Seed Sector Breakout Schedule included presentations from:

  • Dr. Juan Alvarez
    University of Idaho entomologist
  • Dr. A.J. Bussan
    potato and vegetable crop production systems specialist, University of Wisconsin-Madison Horticulture Department
  • Dr. Gerhard Bester
    senior group manager, Frito-Lay North America Agro Operations
  • Dr. Rick Knowles
    Washington State University Horticulture Department interim chair
  • Dr. Dennis Johnson
    Washington State University plant pathologist
  • Eoin Davis
    USDA potato cyst nematode program director
  • Dr. Xiaohong Wang
    USDA-ARS research molecular biologist
  • Dr. Robert Davidson
    Colorado State University Horticulture Department professor
  • Dr. Stewart Gray
    USDA-ARS senior scientist
  • Dr. Alexander Karasev
    University of Idaho plant virologist

Chip Sector Breakout Includes Panel

Chip-stock potatoes part of development projects

The Chip Sector Breakout session at the Potato Expo 2009 included a chipper/grower panel that included Kevin Gawel with Condor Snacks-a chipper, and growers Jeff Thomas of Lance Foods, Greenville, Mich.; Gregg Halverson of Black Gold Farms, Grand Forks, N.D.; Richard Pavelski of Heartland Farms, Hancock, Wis.; and Jim McCormick of McCormick Farms, Bliss, N.Y.

"The Potato Expo was truly a meeting the chip industry did not want to miss," said Sarah Mahler, USPB international marketing manager, chip-stock. "The Chip Sector Breakout sessions were packed with chip growers and manufacturers and was filled with dynamic speakers on economics and management, oils, sustainability and provided updates on current research projects."

David Dzisiak, commercial leader for the Oils Business Unit at Dow AgroSciences, LLC, gave a presentation titled "Developments in Edible Oils for the Potato Chip Industry and What's Next."

Ed Schneider of Schneider Farms in Pasco, Wash., and Virgil Slagell of Triple S Farms in Hydro, Okla., presented information on GAP and sustainability.

Dr. Charlie Higgins, director of research development for Heartland Farms, Walther Farms and Agro-Horizontes gave a presentation about the chip-stock potato seed fast-track program, disease screening and stem end discoloration research.

Dr. Don Halseth, associate professor of horticulture at Cornell University gave a report on the Snack Food Association Variety Trials.

Dr. Gerhard Bester, senior group manager at Frito-Lay North America Agro Operations and Dr. Joe Sowokinos, professor with the Department of Horticultural Science at the University of Minnesota, also gave presentations about chipping potato quality assurance and challenges with storing chip-stock potatoes.

Tim Straus of the Turover Straus Group, and the USPB's new product development contractor, gave a presentation about projects utilizing chip-stock potatoes.

These products are microwaveable wedges, fries made from chipping potatoes which eliminate the need for microwave heater-board packaging and flash fried and frozen chips processed from chip-stock potatoes.


Potato Expo 2009 combines three sector specific meetings into one super industry meeting: The NPC Seed Seminar, Potato Industry Outlook Summit and the USPB-sponsored Chip Seminar all during the same week, at the same location.

"This has been a great meeting," said Nelson Cox, a process grower from Warden, Wash. "It's been very beneficial to associate with everybody, all the growers, researchers and suppliers, involved in the entire potato industry, in one place, and at one time."

"The Kickoff Reception was one of the finest events we have ever attended," said Judy Henninger. She is a representative of Ag World Support Systems and one of the 65 exhibitors at the Potato Expo 2009 Trade Show.

"The right people we need to contact and do business with were all present. They came, they stayed and they visited."

Sector specific breakout sessions-for the chip, fresh, processed and seed potato segments- were open to the nearly 900 registered expo participants.