U.S. Potato Board gets clean bill of healthThe U.S. Potato Board’s annual meeting March 15 started off on with some good news from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Bob Keeney, deputy administrator of fruit and vegetable programs for the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service gave the board, celebrating its 40th anniversary, high marks for its promotion programs. Keeney said the potato board is the oldest of the fruit and vegetable programs that fall under the AMS’ oversight.

“Your programs are really solid,” he said.

Over the past year, the USDA’s Office of Inspector General has undertaken audits of the AMS’ research and promotion programs, and the U.S. Potato Board’s review suggest “very few changes.” Keeney didn’t specify those changes.

“We’re very proud of that report,” Keeney said March 15. “… The potato board in particular was right on the mark.”

In his annual report, potato board president and chief executive officer Tim O’Connor said the board’s mission remains the same as it did when President Richard Nixon signed the Potato Research and Promotion Act.

“This is what the industry envisioned this organization should do, to work on these long-term big opportunities and challenges; increased usage, expand markets and improve the competitive position and present a favorable image of potatoes,” he said. “It’s clear, I think, to everyone that if those areas are improved, then the opportunity for everybody who has a unique and distinct piece of that as their target, you’re going to have better planning, you’re going to achieve a better result.”

In recent years, the potato industry has faced low-carb diets, acrylamide, and recent reports suggesting potatoes contribute to weight gain.

“We continue to battle as an industry over the image of our products and how they are perceived, even though we know potatoes are nutritious,” O’Connor said.

Board chairman Todd Michael said the board has been instrumental in increasing consumption, and recent successes include progress on combating zebra chip disease and the formation of the Alliance for Potato Research and Education. The alliance, formed by the potato board, the National Potato Council and five processors, is designed to increase consumption by addressing misinformation about the health benefits of potatoes.

Increased exports also points to the benefits provided the U.S. Potato Board’s work, Michael said.

“We’re increasing exports year in and year out, regardless of the value of the dollar, regardless of the markets here and abroad,” he said. “We continue to make strides and keep adding new menu innovations. Now is the time to keep pushing forward.”

The meeting concludes March 16; agenda items include reports from the National Potato Council, the United Potato Growers of America and the USDA.