SAN FRANCISCO - The 2017 Potato Expo drew 1,800 attendees and strong reviews despite some cancellations because of stormy West Coast weather.

The Jan. 4-6 show kicked off with the second annual Spud Nation Throwdown, a competition between international chefs moderated by Phil Lempert, Supermarket Guru.

On Jan. 5, Potatoes USA president and CEO Blair Richardson presented the winning prize money to chef Ian Kittichai from Thailand on the strength of his Massaman curry dish.

General session speakers at the Potato Expo included Rich Karlgaard, publisher of Forbes, Adam Steltzner, chief engineer and team leader for the Mars Rover Curiosity, and Ryan Smolkin, CEO of Smoke's Poutinerie.

The show featured five separate breakout educational sessions each for chip, fresh, process, seed and technology related tracks.

"We had great foot traffic and good speakers," said Jim Tiede, owner of Jim Tiede Farms, American Falls, Idaho, and 2016 National Potato Council president. "We never tried the San Francisco area before, but as it turned out it was very nice." The expo had about 170 exhibitors, according to the event's smartphone app.

Three-time cycling gold medal winner and Idaho native Kristin Armstrong signed autographs and visited with attendees at J.R. Simplot's Innate potato booth on the expo floor.

Tiede said next year's Potato Expo will take place Jan. 10-12 in Orlando, Fla., and then move to Austin, Texas, in January 2019.

"I think the whole event is fantastic," said Potatoes USA's Richardson. "It is one of the few things that bring the industry together at one place and at one time."

Richardson said Potatoes USA set up a fun area, bringing in several foosball tables for attendees to play on. The tables were later auctioned off to raise money for a potato promotion in Washington, D.C., later this year, he said. Potatoes USA now has two Spud Nation food trucks operating, one in Denver and one in Washington, D.C.

"Consumers love the products and it is a wonderful way to get new ideas to consumers," Richardson said.

Tiede said the National Potato Council, which held its annual meeting immediately after the expo on Jan. 6-7, is continuing to work on several public policy issues. Among key priority issues, the group is seeking to expand trade access in Mexico, secure estate tax relief and increase truck weight limits on federal highways.

At the NPC annual meeting on Jan. 6, Dan Moss of Moss Farms, Rupert, Idaho, was named the 2016 Potato Man for All Seasons by The Packer's Tom Karst.

Also at the NPC meeting, Dwayne Weyers of Aspen Produce LLC, in Center, Colo., was elected to serve as NPC's 2017 president and to lead the council's executive committee, according to a news release.
NPC delegates also approved:
  • Daniel Chin of Klamath Falls, Ore., as the new vice president of the grower and public relations committee;

  • Cully Easterday of Pasco, Wash. as first vice president and vice president of the trade affairs committee;
  • Larry Alsum of Friesland, Wisc., as vice president of the finance and office procedures committee;
  • Dominic LaJoie of Van Buren, Maine, as vice president of the environmental affairs committee; and

  • Britt Raybould of St. Anthony, Idaho, as the vice president of the legislative and government affairs committee.

2016 president Jim Tiede will continue to serve on the executive committee as the immediate past president, according to the release. The 2017 executive committee will meet at the Potato D.C. Fly-In Feb. 13, a lobbying event that will lead more than 150 growers to Capitol Hill.