Support for the United States Potato Board is greater than ever, as USPB's 37th annual meeting, held March 10-13 at the Westin Tabor Center in Denver, Colo., proved.
The biggest news of the event was that board members voted overwhelmingly to increase the assessment rate by a half-cent. The proposed assessment rate increase received broad support across all potato-producing regions and was voted on by a margin of 91 percent in favor of increasing the assessment rate.
"This has been a year-long project," says David Fairbourn, Industry Communications and Policy Committee manager for the board.
This proposal was first presented and discussed in regional caucus meetings and during the full Board meeting at the March 2008 USPB Annual Meeting. All year long, the USPB Grower Leaders have facilitated the state and regional discussions about the need to increase USPB funding levels to maintain vital demand-building programs.
The rate growers and handlers across the United States have been paying toward demand-building programs around the country and overseas-for fresh, frozen, chipping, dehydrated and potato seed-has been 2.5 cents per cwt. Each regional caucus reported favorable support for this Grower Leadership Initiative to increase the assessment rate by a half cent.
Fairbourn says it will take the USDA a little while to review the new rate and get all the paperwork in place, so the half-cent increase will take effect in the spring of 2010, putting the cwt rate to 3 cents.
"Exchanges rates haven't been very favorable," he says. "The cost of goods and services to maintain those programs in foreign countries has been difficult."
"The global economy drives our businesses," says Bart Connors, USPB Past Chairman. "Our exchange rates with foreign currencies have positively affected our export potential, but the costs of maintaining our International Program have also increased. There is never a right time to discuss increasing the assessment rate, but I believe making this increase is the prudent choice required to maintain our important and valuable programs."
Connors recently guided the efforts to communicate the necessity for increasing the assessment rate while serving as the USPB's 2008-2009 Chairman. Tom Qualey of Sherman, Maine, was elected Chairman of the USPB at the March 2009 Annual Meeting. He was also instrumental in supporting the Grower Leadership Initiative, and communicating the need to maintain the strength of the USPB's demand building programs.
A FOUNDATION OF SUCCESS
USPB programs have successfully increased demand for U.S. Potatoes and Potato Products in both domestic and international markets.
Fifty-two Chefs representing 45 restaurant chains with a total of 84,000 units and $71 billion in sales have attended the USPB's Foodservice Seminars at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Napa Valley, Calif. Forty percent of those attending these custom seminars are developing, or have already added, new potato items to their menus.
- The USPB's nationally recognized, award-winning Best-In-Class and Best-In Class Fast Track Retail programs are proven and effective tools that increase retail sales and reconnect fresh potatoes with the lifestyles of today's consumers.
- The launch of the "Potatoes.Goodness Unearthed" campaign has delivered a powerful nutrition message targeted to women with children at home.
- U.S. Potatoes and Potato Products are recognized worldwide for quality and innovation. During FY2008, U.S. Potatoes and Potato Product exports exceeded $1 billion, supported by the USPB's market access and development program initiatives.
- The industry continues to benefit from innovations in which the USPB invests for each segment to improve the versatility and convenience of potatoes.
Though the biggest news of the Annual Meeting was the assessment rate increase, USPB was very pleased with the outcome of the most recent Grower Survey, which demonstrated strong grower support and approval of USPB programs. The results of the survey showed that 83 percent of growers support the USPB's goals and strategies-up 10 percent from the previous Grower Survey, in 2005.
Fairbourn takes the news to heart that they're making a difference with growers.
"We're working on it!" he says. "It's nice to see these projects paying off."
NEW 2009 EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE MEMBERS
New to the 2009 Executive Committee includes some fresh but experienced faces from throughout the country. They include Sid Staunton from Tulelake, Calif., Jimmy Harrell from Elizabeth City, N.C., and Lon Baley from Malin, Ore. The new committee chairman is Tom Qualey from Sherman, Maine.
Staunton is a third-generation grower who farms with his brothers Ed and Marshall, with Staunton Farms, Inc. They grow Russets, organic, yellow, white and red potatoes. He's been growing potatoes in the Klamath Basin for nearly 30 years and is a graduate of the University of Nevada in Reno with a degree in agricultural economics. Right now he's the president of Cal-Ore Produce. Sid will serve the USPB as the chairman of Finance.
Harrell is managing George Wood Farms, Inc., in Elizabeth City, N.C. He produces Atlantics, Frito-Lay varieties, Superiors, reds and yellows. He's currently on the board of directors of the North Carolina Potato Association, and will be serving the USPB on the Industry Communication and Policy Committee.
Baley is a fourth-generation potato grower and also grew up in the Klamath Basin. He's part of Baley-Trotman Potato Company, a chip-stock production organization, and is serving with the Klamath Potato Growers Association, the Tulelake Growers Association and as the chair of the Oregon Potato Commission. As the co-chair of the International Marketing Committee, Baley demonstrated effective leadership representing the U.S. potato industry during trade missions to foreign countries.
Qualey farms with his brother John. They've owned and operated Three Oak Farms, and he's very active in the industry. He currently serves on the board for the state pesticide control, the Integrated Pest Management Council and the executive council of the Maine Potato Board. He's a past president and director of the Maine Potato Board, the Agricultural Marketing Council and a past director of the Maine Potato Growers. He previously served as the co-chairman of International Marketing Committee.