In my monthly column I often write about the Idaho Potato Commission's (IPC) marketing programs that support the organization's over-arching mission-promote and protect the "Grown in Idaho" seal, a federal certification mark that guarantees that the potatoes were grown in Idaho. However, there's another area of great importance the IPC supports that's critical in maintaining the brand's superior reputation-investments in research projects that provide growers with the knowledge and tools they need to grow a quality, premium product.
During this fiscal year, the IPC will invest over $800,000 in research programs that focus on many different areas, including the eradication of potato cyst nematode and zebra chip. A majority of the current research budget was awarded to the University of Idaho College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS). CALS is currently working on over 20 different research projects that will help growers protect their crops.
These research projects can take anywhere from six months to several years to conduct. Once the final reports are complete, the information is immediately shared with the industry through the IPC's newsletter Potato Pulse, at workshops held at the University of Idaho Potato Conference at Idaho State University in January, industry meetings such as the Idaho Grower Shippers Association Annual Convention in Sun Valley, and at the POTATO EXPO.
In addition to awarding grants, the IPC also applies for grants. Recently, it was awarded one by the state of Idaho to help those growers affected by PCN sanitize their equipment. Additionally, the IPC seeks other federal grants both independently and working in cooperation with other states.
While this research is critical for safeguarding our country's largest potato crop, this valuable information is published and becomes public information that potato growers in other states can use. Understanding the importance of knowledge sharing, the IPC, the Washington State Potato Commission and the Oregon Potato Commission recently pooled resources to hire Dr. Andy Jensen as the Pacific Northwest Potato Regional Research Director.
In this new role, Dr. Jensen coordinates the planning and receipt of all research proposals, by communicating directly with researchers and administrators about the Commissions' expectations. Dr. Jensen monitors research projects to ensure that objectives and timelines are met and helps transfer the results to the growers, shippers and processor members of the potato industry and gather input on needs for future research needed to help maintain the strength of the Pacific Northwest potato industry.
As a marketer I know that the smartest advertising campaign or public relations program cannot influence a consumer to purchase a product unless it meets their highest standards.
This holds true for potatoes. In consumer focus groups conducted in recent years, participants were asked an open-ended question: what are the first words that come to mind when you think of Idaho potatoes? The top two descriptors were quality and premium. It is every marketer's dream to have consumers describe your brand with those two words. However, with consumers' expectations so high, we must stay one step ahead on the research front in order to maintain our long-standing and solid reputation.
Ongoing research in all areas of potato production whether it be pest management, development of new varieties or improving growing practices is critical in growing the Idaho potato, a brand recognized around the world as a quality, premium product.