As luck would have it, rain was falling in buckets back in May, on the first day of the North Carolina Potato Association's 81st Annual Meeting. A farm tour was scheduled for the day to identify the fields, observe the conditions of the 2009 crop and to identify the growing varieties.
Rain notwithstanding, the tour went on as planned-thanks to a red, double-decker bus seemingly off the streets of London. The North Carolina Potato Association members and allied industry, along with growers from other regions like Pennsylvania, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Florida and Prince Edward Island boarded the mobile lecture hall, and slogged out into the rain to the muddy fields.
Regardless, the rain was welcome as the crops needed it, and rainfall is the only mode for watering the fields. Small ditches lining the field perimeters were full of the surplus water, drawing it away. Some low spots inside the fields also had ditches for draining. Networks of drainage ditches carries this water down the roadsides, usually to a tangle of tall trees on low-lying ground where it pools and becomes stained by the cypress and juniper trees that grow along the banks of the creeks and rivers.
Due to weather, the tour was a complete drive-by event without any of the accustomed boarding and un-boarding at the various field locations, or the typical stops for digging to check growth progress and tuber set.
Along the way, the bus stopped at Kenneth Bateman Farms, LLC, where the North Carolina State University potato variety trials for 2009 are growing. Twenty-four lines of red, round white chipping, a few russet and several yellow varieties were planted in March. Red varieties for the fresh market and fresh chipping varieties are grown commercially in North Carolina.
"Atlantic, Snowden and Superiors are the main chipping varieties grown in North Carolina for fresh chip-processing," said Mark Clough, researcher and extension associate with the North Carolina State University Potato Breeding and Genetics Program. Clough grew up working on his uncle's farm growing potatoes. "Marci is another good chipping variety, but its specific gravities drop off if these are left in the ground too long, so harvest needs to go fast to avoid this. Harley Blackwell is an up-and-coming variety for the area, as it is resistant to heat necrosis."
Released in 2003 by USDA-ARS, Beltsville, Md., Harley Blackwell is a mid-season variety with mostly round shapes and tan skin. It produces small- to medium-sized tubers, and its specific gravity is five points less than Atlantic. Its chips fry-up nice and bright. Harley Blackwell has been tested in 47 trials since 1995.
According to Clough, russet varieties are not generally grown in North Carolina because these are susceptible to growth cracks and sprouting in the daughter tubers. Still, the 2009 research plot includes russet varieties from other breeding programs like Blazer, Defender, Gold Rush and Innovator.
This year is the first year of testing for the Innovator Russet in the North Carolina State University breeding program. Innovator Russet is a yellow-fleshed Russet variety. It is sold in Canada as Russet Yukon, and may be a russet variety that will perform in North Carolina's growing conditions.
"These are priceless learning opportunities," said Russ Wysocki of Russet Potato Exchange in Bancroft, Wis. "These are rare occasions to learn something new from fellow industry participants from a different growing region, and I've always been rewarded with new ideas about the way to do things."
The business meeting was held later that day at the Fairfield Inn in Elizabeth City. National Potato Council Executive Vice President and CEO John Keeling discussed trade, legislative and environmental issues facing the industry. The potato industry is facing challenges in each of these areas, and Keeling gave an excellent report covering all of the issues and updating the growers in North Carolina with information pertaining to their markets and interests as well as national industry concerns.
The United States Potato Board was represented by David Fairbourn, Manager of Industry Communications and Policy. He gave an update dealing with recent efforts and results with the "Potatoes.Goodness Unearthed" nutrition campaign, advancements in foodservice, work to get fresh potatoes back on the consumer's table, increasing chip-stock uses, new products made with US Dehy, seed export opportunities and developing products and channels for frozen potatoes.
United Potato Growers of America Chief Operating Officer Buzz Shahan gave a presentation about how important all potato production regions-whether members or not of UPGA-need to be involved with providing meaningful information about fresh potato production and supply. He demonstrated how red potatoes grown for North Carolina's fresh market are impacted by the supply of russet varieties and the movement of all fresh supplies across the country.
"Red Potatoes are tied to the entire fresh potato market," he said. "The industry needs North Carolina to join `data-land' and not only provide important supply information, but to benefit from the course of a national and international dialog because of it."
North Carolina Department of Agriculture Marketing Specialist Tommy Fleetwood reported on the North Carolina Potato Association's activities, developments and programs for 2008.
The North Carolina industry has many great opportunities to market and communicate on a local level. Fleetwood involves each sector and growers in keeping potatoes on the minds of North Carolina consumers, and he effectively represents the industry on national programs and issues.
Thomas E. Moore Incorporated Produce Sales Manager Mark Hodson presented state and regional prices along with freight comparisons and alternatives for North Carolina growers.
The North Carolina Potato Association would like to thank its valued sponsors for the 81st Annual Meeting:
GOLD LEVEL SPONSORS
Southern States, Inc.
Meherrin Agricultural Chemical Co. Inc.
Walter Ray Meads
Scott Insurance LLC
Gail and Rawlings Scott
SILVER LEVEL SPONSORS
- Prince Edward Island Potato Board
- Brenda Simmons
- Cambridge Farms, Inc.
- Ken Gad, Steve Cohen
- Gateway Bank and Trust
- David Twiddy, Debbie Sawyer
- B and S Equipment Company
- Bradley and Sammy Jennings
- Global Protein Products
- Mark Keirstead
- Cavendish Produce
- Ed Barnhill
- W.D. Potato LTD
- Walter and Linda Davidson
- Allen Canning Company
- Glenn Blackman, Martin Griess
- Harriston-Mayo Manufacturing Co.
- Mike Delisle
BRONZE LEVEL SPONSORS
Cherry Farms Seed Co., Inc., Brian Ashford, Ken Cherry; East Coast Equipment Company, Jim Chesson, Wilbur Byrum; C.A. Perry and Son, Inc., Don Parks; Maine Farmers Exchange, Bob Sirois; Thomas E. Moore, Inc., Tom Cullen; First Citizens Bank, Eddie Jennings; Farmers Harvest Inc., Kevin Pinelli; Metzler Systems, Inc., Dave Budd; C and R Implement Co., Inc., Donald Beacham; Dow AgroSciences, Laurie Coulter; Camden Sales and Service, Harvey and Hazel Gregory; Bayer CropScience, Randy Wilson; DuPont, Alex Truszkowski; Bruce Foods, Inc., Dennis Thomas, Nancy Crumpler; NC Farm Bureau, Debbie Hamrick; Tallman Family Farms, LLC, Richard Tallman; Parkway Ag, Inc., Shelton Harris; Wachovia Bank, David Jennings; Maine Bag Company; Weeksville Farm Supply, Ken Bateman; Crary Industries, Inc., Tom Tallackson; Volm Bag Company, Inc., Mike Levis