Potato Expo 2014

'Drinking Out of a Fire Hose' in San Antonio

Published in the March 2014 Issue Published online: Mar 16, 2014 Steve Smede
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In his January 2014 presentation on key factors driving fertilizer markets, Simplot Marketing Vice President John Malinowski offered this telling perspective: “Sometimes we can get to thinking that local factors will determine what is going to affect our supply or pricing. In reality, there are a lot of things happening around the world that are going to influence that. Fertilizer is totally a global business.”

If the scope of discussions at Potato Expo 2014 is any indication, globalization seems to resonate these days within every corner of the agricultural marketplace. This theme is nothing new to many of us, but it certainly seemed to permeate the lion’s share of panels and presentations as the week rolled out in San Antonio, Texas.

Returning this year as an information-packed prelude to the Expo, the show started off at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center with the eighth annual North American Potato Business Summit. United Potato Growers of America CEO Jerry Wright made it clear from the get-go that the pace of presentations would be fast, furious and full of content.

“Get ready to learn,” he said. “This is going to be drinking out of a fire house.”

First at the podium was Jessie Ausubel, Director of the Program for the Human Environment at Rockfeller University. In his presentation about America’s leading role in land use management, Ausubel noted a striking statistic that never ceases to amaze: American growers produce 40 percent more potatoes with 20 percent fewer acres land than they did 40 years ago.

“We need to think very differently about the future in terms of our land use,” he said. “The peak comes not from exhaustion of arable land, but from your higher yields, and also from changes in consumer behavior.”

Echoed in later presentations at the summit, Ausubel noted his finding that “humanity has in fact reached peak farm land… and that a large net global restoration of land to nature is ready to begin.”

Other highlighted speakers at the summit included Rabobank Vice President Sterling Liddell, Bruce Huffaker of the Potato Market News, United Potato Growers of Canada General Manager Kevin MacIsaac and United States Potato Board Vice President John Toaspern.

Liddell’s presentation focused on the economy and global trade as it affects other commodities, particularly corn. Special attention settled on ethanol and China, and the latter’s economic wild-card status as that nation moves from a sustenance economy into one that consumes for enjoyment.

In addition to Malinowski’s coverage of the key factors driving price trends in the global fertilizer market, Huffaker focused on the potato industry in Europe and its uptick in certain areas, such as the fry and dehy export markets.

With a summary of the industry in Canada, MacIsaac noted the ongoing acreage decline in that country as “substantial” but coinciding with stable production levels and increased yields. Meanwhile, consumption is down in the country’s domestic fresh market, he said. “It’s a major number for us to deal with, and it’s an issue that were looking at seriously.”

Beyond the summit, attendees enjoyed a record-setting number of displays at the Expo’s trade show, as well as a full lineup of presentations, panel discussions and breakout sessions.

Unforgettable keynotes spanned the event, including an insightful talk on geopolitics by Peter Zeihan, an inspirational address by baseball legend Jim Abbott and a thought-provoking (and exceedingly humorous) presentation by Lowell Catlett, Ph.D. on the deeper implications of agriculture’s role in the future sustainability of the planet.

Speaking of the future: Potato Expo 2015 will take place Jan. 7-9, 2015 at the Rosen Shingle Creek in Orlando, Fla. For more information on the Expo, visit www.potato-expo.com.