MOSCOW, Idaho — University of Idaho Extension potato specialist Nora Olsen will wrap up her year as president of the Potato Association of America (PAA) this weekend in Spokane at the group’s annual meeting.
Based at the UI Kimberly Research and Extension Center near Twin Falls, Idaho, Olsen will return to her roots with the Spokane trip. A native of northeastern Washington, she graduated from Washington State University before joining the UI College of Agricultural and Life Sciences faculty.
“I am very excited to go back to where I was born and raised,” Olsen said.
The annual meeting also brings association members close to eastern Washington’s major potato production area, Olsen said, adding she looks forward to the chance to mingle with potato industry professionals from the U.S. and worldwide.
Olsen traveled to Belgium earlier this year to participate in Europe’s meeting of potato professionals, the European Association of Potato Research. Last week, the World Potato Congress board of directors named her its new director. She presented at that group’s meetings in 2012 in Scotland and in 2000 in Amsterdam.
The PAA gives professionals the chance to discuss and relay research and Extension information across the continent and to hear from global experts. The Spokane meeting will feature speakers from the Netherlands and Korea.
Last year the meeting was in Quebec City; in 2015 it will be in Maine.
Bringing new varieties to market will be a focus of the Spokane meeting through a symposium coordinated by Joe Guenthner, a retired UI potato economist and past association president.
“We’re going to explore aspects of research that enlighten us on what consumers are wanting, how we can increase the culinary uses of potatoes and bringing new potato varieties to market,” Olsen said.
Holding the meeting in different locations allows members to see different markets’ preferences and producers’ and processors’ practices, she said.
Meeting participants also get a sense of market shifts, such as the rising popularity of baby baker and fingerling potatoes. “We as researchers can learn about integrating different varieties into our research and forces that are helping to drive the market,” she said.
Discussion will focus also on biotechnology and developments such as the J.R. Simplot Company’s development of its trademarked Innate potatoes.
One of her personal favorite activities at the meeting, Olsen said, is the graduate student competition. “We have a lot of pride in what the students do because they are the future of the industry, and they often give the best presentations.”
Twice as a graduate student, Olsen finished third in the competition and made connections and friendships that have lasted throughout her career, she said.
The Northwest is well represented in the association. Olsen will turn over the president’s gavel to Andy Jensen, who serves as the research director for the potato commissions in Idaho, Washington and Oregon.
UI Extension potato specialist Mike Thornton from the Parma Research and Extension Center was just elected as the group’s vice president, which puts him in line to serve as president in 2016-17.