A big welcome to all those who plan to attend the Idaho Grower Shippers Association’s 85th annual Sun Valley Convention! A wonderful setting, a great list of educational opportunities, industry-wide meetings and issues updates and many recreational and networking activities make this the premier event in the Idaho potato industry.
Our theme this year is “Potatoes…The Heart of Idaho.” This theme alludes to not only the vitally important role that potatoes play in the state’s agricultural and overall economy, but also to the important role that potatoes play in a balanced and healthy diet. You certainly may have heard it before—an Idaho potato has more potassium than a banana, is high in vitamin C and is a great source of dietary fiber—but we in the industry have the continuing responsibility to educate consumers on the healthy benefits of our very own famous potato. This message cannot be heard too often as there seems to be a never-ending stream of those who would malign that famous potato, whether it be an off-hand disparaging remark in the media or keeping it out of federal feeding and nutrition programs.
Yet another example of perceptually harmful policy against the potato is that of the USDA restricting it from the Women Infants and Children (WIC) program. Allowing potatoes into the WIC program has been a top priority of the industry for a number of years. Through the leadership and tireless efforts of the National Potato Council, it has sought a reversal to this misguided policy.
We recently received some potentially good news on this issue and owe a very big “thank you” to Idaho’s own Congressman Mike Simpson, who offered an amendment to this year’s Farm Bill that would reverse the potato restriction in the WIC program. If you haven’t seen the video of Congressman Simpson putting forward this amendment, it is definitely well worth watching and can be found on YouTube using search words “Mike Simpson potato amendment.” The amendment was strongly supported and adopted by a voice vote; however, unfortunately, the entire Farm Bill was voted down in the House. As of this writing it was left with an unclear path forward.
A number of other challenges continue to face the potato industry, including fresh potato market access to Mexico, immigration reform that provides the potato industry with a stable workforce, understanding and complying with food safety regulations and the implementation of the new healthcare laws, just to name a few. You will be able to hear updates and strategies on a number of these issues at this year’s convention.
On a personal note, I am very appreciative of the opportunity to serve in this role with the IGSA, and want to thank all of the association members for the support I have received. Advocating on behalf of the state’s grower-shippers is a rewarding experience. Working with the terrific men and women who make up Idaho’s potato industry has been a true pleasure that I now see from an entirely new perspective.
As I now approach eight months in this position, I want to also thank the IGSA Board of Directors, who serve determined to make our industry a better one for the membership.
Special thanks go to this year’s chairwoman, Peggy Grover, for her dedicated service to the IGSA and for the great leadership she has displayed in moving our association forward. And I must also thank Travis Blacker for everything he has done to help me ensure a smooth transition through the change in management.
Finally, thanks to all of the IGSA Sun Valley Convention sponsors. We couldn’t do all of this without their support and the industry leadership these companies have displayed.
We are looking forward to a great year and hope to see all of you at this year’s convention!