The hot potato news for 2011 that had the industry buzzing from January through November was the great school lunch debate about starchy vegetables.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture suggested that school meal programs cut potatoes from breakfasts and reduce servings of “starchy” vegetables such as potatoes, peas, corn and lima beans to half a cup per student per week.
Potato interests across the country mobilized. Associations, commissions, growers and distributors all kicked into crisis lobbying mode.
“The school lunch question pushed forward research and reconfirmed the nutritional value of potatoes,” said Lee Frankel, president and chief executive officer for the Salt Lake City-based United Potato Growers of America.
By spring, legislators from potato producing states were on board. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, emerged as one of the early potato champions on Capitol Hill, followed by Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo. Eventually they sponsored a bipartisan amendment to an agricultural funding bill that protected the potato.
The Collins-Udall amendment survived the legislative process, and President Obama signed it and the funding bill into law in late November.
In recognition of her efforts, the Maine Potato Board in Presque Isle honored Collins, who grew up picking potatoes in northern Maine.