SUN VALLEY, Idaho — The Idaho Grower Shippers Association wrapped up its 89th annual convention Sept. 1 by looking at the potato industry’s challenges in Washington, D.C.

John Keeling, executive vice president and CEO of the National Potato Council, said the atmosphere in Washington is both exciting and scary as American voters chose an end to the status quo. That leaves many issues for the potato industry to work through, including immigration, regulation and tax reform.

He said the international trade situation is critical to potato growers, as they export about 20% of their crop each year, and their concerns must be addressed during NAFTA negotiations.

“’Do no harm’ must be the goal of trade,” Keeling said. “If we screw something up the first thing that gets retaliated against is always agriculture.”

He said his dealings so far with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Purdue have been positive, but his staff is very limited, so the department is having to do so much with so few resources.

“Right now the Senate doesn’t seem inclined to push anything through for President Trump,” he said.

Along those lines, United Fresh Produce Association chairwoman Susan Reimer-Sifford of Club Chef encouraged potato growers to voice their concerns to their representatives in Washington, including at United Fresh’s public policy event, the Washington Conference, September 18-20.

She praised the potato industry for being the biggest group supporting United Fresh’s Salad Bars for Schools program, donating more than 300 salad bars so far.

Blair Richardson, president of Potatoes USA, said the national group plans to promote potatoes with more of an offensive strategy this season as opposed to counting all the negative news about potatoes.

He said the group will release research showing how nutritious potatoes are, especially for high-performance athletes, which will then let the industry take an approach similar to Gatorade, and reach a mass consumer audience.

IGSA chairman Jon Webster said the association is in strong financial shape thanks to the leadership of recent president Mark Klompien and new president Shawn Boyle, who was presiding over his first annual meeting after being hired in January.