ORLANDO, Fla. — Record numbers of attendees and exhibitors at the 4th Potato Expo 2012 made the event a success before the first general session even started, organizers said.

The trade show floor boasted 130 exhibitors for the three-day event, which began Jan. 4. John Keeling, executive vice president and chief executive officer for the National Potato Council said the record number of exhibitors correlated with the record attendance of about 1,500.

Potato Expo draws record attendanceKeeling recapped the council’s activities of 2011 during a “Meet the NPC” session Jan. 4, pointing to the successful efforts to secure potatoes a place in the federal school meal programs as the highlight of the year.

“It’s going to be a long time before we get tired of taking this victory lap,” Keeling said.

Looking at the council’s agenda for 2012, though, Keeling said there is still much work to be done.

“Access to Mexico is the Holy Grail,” Keeling said. “It will open access to more than 100 million consumers, many who are moving up into the middle class.”

Keeling said encouraging federal lawmakers to increase maximum truck weights is another top priority for the NPC in 2012. The grassroots approach that resulted in more than 800 individual letters being sent to U.S. representatives and senators during the 2011 school lunch battle will be a crucial element in the fight for heavier trucks, he said.

The NPC’s annual group trip to Capitol Hill — renamed the NPC Potato D.C. Fly-In for 2012 — is set for Feb. 27-March 1, and Keeling said it is the perfect mechanism for growers, shippers and processors to make a difference for the U.S. potato industry.

“The impact of 10 people walking into a representative’s or senator’s office compared to three people is phenomenal,” Keeling said.