Published online: Mar 27, 2009
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The Canadian potato grower tells the opening session of the seventh congress, meeting for the first time in New Zealand, that the host country in particular has room to increase potato exports.

Parker says he's growing potatoes in Russia because of the opportunities there to expand production.

Meantime, Nick Roskruge of New Zealand's Massey University and an expert on native potatoes, met the Peruvian delegation to the congress to plan a trip to South America for this year's harvest season.

Roskruge, is chairman of the Maori organic growers collective Tahuri Whenua. During his trip he will carry out research to see whether there are similar native varieties in New Zealand and Peru and whether there is a language connection over the names of the potatoes.

Speaking at the official opening of the congress, New Zealand Agriculture Minister David Carter says the congress presents a unique opportunity for those involved in the potato industry in New Zealand to showcase their expertise to the world, to share ideas and make new business contacts.

"Forecasters predict world demand for food will double in the next 40 years," Carter says. "This opportunity and challenge for all of us is how we are going to feed the world in the future, using less land, less water and fewer nutrients."

He says much more can be achieved by working together, rather than in isolation.

"On that note, I commend the aim and vision of the World Potato Congress which fosters the sharing of information and ideas to support the global growth and development of the potato industry," Carter says.

"I encourage you all to make the most of the opportunity that this congress offers to share experiences, learn new ideas, meet new people and continue to foster the global links that will keep our planet fed and sustained during these hard times."

He says with staples such as pasta and rice bring added to family meals, the lesson learned is producers must move with consumer trends and market to consumer desires.

"The consumer is king," Carter says. "Demands vary-products may need to be environmentally friendly, the right shape, the right color, convenient, healthy or all of the above."

He says there is also growing awareness of the need to protect and conserve the natural resources needed to produce food; in particular soil and water.

"Potato growers have made good environmental progress with the development of the Potato Calculator," Carter says. "This tool enables growers to schedule fertilizer and irrigation to optimize production whilst minimizing the impact on the environment. Because it alerts farmers to overuse of fertilizers and irrigation, it also has a money-saving potential, which is important to all farmers as business-owners."

Carter says innovation and improvement in agriculture is important and can take a number of forms; breeding for disease resistance, higher yields, longer storage ability and new potato products.

"In New Zealand, Future Vegetables, a strategic research partnership between industry and Plant and Food Research, is adding value and diversity to key crops such as potatoes," he says. "The NZ$37-million ($21-million) project is supported by both New Zealand and Australian government agencies."

Carter says innovation also means finding ways to meet changing consumer demands.

"As an example, potato growers, processors and the food service sector have formed The Chip Group in response to consumer concern over the fat content of chips," he says. "This has resulted in analysis of the variety, cut and cooking techniques that produce healthier chips."