(Jan. 16, 5:35 p.m.) SAN ANTONIO — At Potato Expo 2009, the four sectors of the industry – fresh, processed, chip and seed – came together under one roof.

About 850 people attended the inaugural show, said Tim O’Connor, president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Potato Board, Denver. The combination show helped to consolidate travel for attendees.

“What we’ve heard from the growers here is that they really like the format,” O’Connor said. “This is the meeting they’d hope it would be.”

Plans are moving forward for the next potato expo, which is scheduled for December in Orlando.

Focus on sustainability

The theme for the show, held Jan. 7-9 at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, was “Achieving a Sustainable Future.”

A grower committee chose the theme, O’Connor said.

“We felt it gave us a platform to invite a lot of our customers to come here to speak and to tell us what sustainability means to them,” he said.

Speakers ranged from the World Wildlife Fund to Sam’s Club and focused on what sustainability means for their organizations and how the potato industry fits into those goals.

Sustainability is the price of admission for doing business with a company like Wal-Mart Stores Inc., said Jerry Hull, senior director of produce and floral for Sam’s Club.

“It’s on every buyer’s evaluation,” he said. “It’s so important.”

Sustainability is a no-brainer for farmers, said Gene Kahn, vice president and global sustainability officer for General Mills Inc., Minneapolis.

A former organic potato farmer, Kahn said sustainability for growers is second nature.
“Farmers have a unique understanding of sustainability,” he said. “We call it common sense.”

And the award goes to . . .

Dave Smith, former president of the Idaho Grower Shippers Association, received The Packer and The Grower magazine’s Potato Man for All Seasons award.

The presentation was made by The Grower editor Vicky Boyd at the National Potato Council’s annual meeting held in San Antonio following Potato Expo 2009.

Smith, a 28-year veteran of the potato industry, wasn’t always a spud man, Boyd said. He got his start with the National Wool Growers Association.

“But I think he quickly saw the light that crops were better than critters and potatoes were king,” she said.

Potato industry meets at inaugural show
Larry Alsum (left), president and general manager of Alsum Produce Inc., Friesland, Wis., discusses the Healthy Grown program with Jonathan Yoder of Meadowbrook Farms, Sturvis, Mich. (center), and Peter and Carla VanderZaag of SunRise Produce, Alliston, Ontario, at Potato Expo 2009 held in San Antonio, Jan. 8 and 9.