EAGLE, Idaho - Idaho Potato Commission board members have had second thoughts about plans to idle the world's largest Russet on wheels in 2014.
Board members believe their Great Big Idaho Potato Truck has raised so much awareness about Idaho's most famous crop, they may also make a multi-year commitment to keep it rolling further into the future.
The truck, which hauls a 6-ton replica potato and made its first U.S. tour two years ago in celebration of IPC's 75th anniversary, returned to Idaho on Nov. 8 from its second trek, which started on Memorial Day and covered more than 30,000 miles. In its first two years, the truck has logged 47,022 miles through 47 states and 1,300 cities.
IPC members didn't include funding for a third tour in its Fiscal Year 2014 budget, but have now instructed a consulting agency, Evans, Hardy & Young, to make a cost estimate for a tour that will likely begin in late spring or early summer.
"The response from the industry and the consumers is just overwhelming," said IPC vice chairman Boyd Foster, a Rigby farmer. "It's just such a wonderful thing, we'd hate to not utilize it."
A national tour requires a roughly $1 million budget. Foster said the board is committed to finding the funding without jeopardizing other IPC programs.
The most recent tour made stops at major events such as the NFL Hall of Fame Game, the Kentucky Derby and the National FFA Convention and Expo in Louisville, Ky. The truck is scheduled to make a few more Boise appearances this winter at the IPC-sponsored Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, Care Days and the New Year's Eve dropping of the illuminated potato.
IPC may partner again with Meal on Wheels, a nonprofit that supplies nutritious meals to homebound seniors.
IPC Chairman Dan Moss, a Declo farmer, said the truck tours have thus far been funded from a reserve account, but commissioners want to create a specific budget line item covering the program for a period of at least three years, following the 2014 tour.
"The truck has turned out to be way more successful than I think we ever thought it would be," Moss said.
Sue Kennedy, with Evans, Hardy & Young, said her firm is now investigating "every cost imaginable" for another tour. She's also working to quantify the truck's public exposure. She said IPC has been flooded with requests for the truck to attend future events.
"We've learned every retailer in America wants the truck to come by," said IPC President and CEO Frank Muir. "We're trying to figure out how to accommodate those requests."
Muir said IPC took in $15.5 million in revenue but spent $15.3 million in FY 2013, and the difference could go toward the next truck tour. He said recent USDA estimates show growers' yields were higher than he anticipated in his FY 2014 budget, which would also generate additional checkoff dollars for the tour. IPC may also solicit contributions from other sponsors.
"I'd like to do a similar-sized program, which was seven months," Muir said.