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Vol.1 ISSUE 2 Winter 2009
In October 2008, the United States Potato Board (USPB) hosted 15 representatives from major snack manufacturing companies in the Philippines, China, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore for a chip-stock reverse trade mission (RTM). The Chip-stock RTM brought snack manufacturers to the United States to see growing areas and to learn about the many US chipping varieties and their characteristics.
During the weeklong trip, the group toured growing regions in Oregon and California. In Oregon, the group visited two farms to see the harvest, to learn about quality control methods and to see washing, packing and storage facilities. The group received additional education from the Klamath Basin Research & Extension Center where they learned about developing new varieties to meet manufacturer and grower needs and also from an informative US chipping potato variety presentation given by Duane Preston, Emeritus Area Extension Agent-Potatoes, University of Minnesota and North Dakota State University.
In California, the group visited chipping potato fields to dig several different varieties and to learn how the US grows potatoes in different growing regions and during different seasons. While in California, the group also toured storage and packing facilities. The week ended with the International Chip-stock Symposium, designed to bring buyers and sellers together to learn from each other. Conducting activities like this is key to expanding US chipping potato exports because it helps build relationships and increases the manufacturers’ confidence in US chipping potatoes.
The USPB hosted a symposium as the final event of a reverse trade mission for chip manufacturers from Asia on October 17, 2008. The Symposium attracted 11 US growers and shippers to join 15 RTM participants from Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Japan and China.
The morning session featured presentations on chip markets in each respective country and background on each of the foreign companies. The afternoon session included presentations by US growers on the US chip-stock supply situation and the need for contracting.
Dr. Joe Sowkinos, Professor, Department of Horticulture Science, University of Minnesota, gave a very informative talk on the importance of proper handling, shipping and storage to maintain proper sugar levels. A dinner and reception followed the symposium where the participants mingled and discussed future business opportunities.
Useful Foods and Frito Lay Thailand both reported that during the recent USPB Chip-Stock Reverse Trade Mission (RTM) they placed orders for chipping potatoes for delivery in December 2008 under their current quota allocation. Both companies also indicated they will be contracting for potatoes in 2009 once they know what their new import quota for the year will be.
The USPB utilized funds from USDA’s Quality Samples Program (QSP) to send a shipment of new US chipping potato varieties to Thailand. The sample shipment arrived in Thailand in late December 2008 and was delivered to a snack manufacturer. The new US varieties were tested in the snack manufacturer’s production line to determine if production specifications and requirements could be met.
All three US varieties sent for testing arrived in good condition and chipped well at the plant. The new US chipping potato variety samples produced a chip that met the Thai company’s standards. Because of the success of this shipment and other USPB activities, this manufacturer is looking forward to future commercial purchases of US chipping potatoes.
Through a 20-member Grower Chip Committee, USPB is supporting industry efforts to improve grower returns through education, networking and new variety trials and development for consumer product improvement.
The USPB Marketing Committee granted the Chip Committee’s requests for increased budget in FY10 (July 1, 2009 – June 30, 2010), regardless of whether or not the ½ cent assessment rate increase is approved at the USPB Annual Meeting in March.
The USPB Administrative Committee also approved additional funding to the current fiscal year FY09 (July 1, 2008 – June 30, 2009) budget to immediately hire a manager for the Chip Program. The USPB staff is developing a job description and will interact with the Chip Steering Committee to ensure the industry has input. Several candidates have already contacted USPB staff as the discussion about this position has become known.
For Chipping Potatoes, the Innovation Program’s emphasis has been on refining and moving new products into the marketplace. There are a total of three new chipping potato products: a Frozen Chip (a.k.a “Export Chip”), a Microwave Fry and a Microwave Wedge. All three are being demonstrated to key processors for both export and domestic foodservice applications.
The Chip Committee continued its cold storage chipping potato variety testing, stem end research and “fast tracking” chipping varieties with good potential. The committee also continued its investment in “Zebra Complex” studies. All these activities are designed to help chippers provide the consumer with a great end product.
Internationally, the USPB is working to educate chip manufacturers and build a greater understanding of US chipping potato varieties, characteristics and technical requirements.
After the distribution of a trade lead to US growers, a chip manufacturer in Costa Rica began importing US chipping potatoes for the first time.
Work continues in Japan and Korea to enable the continued exporting of Idaho potatoes to these markets. The PCN find has been fully delineated and extensive testing carried out in the rest of the state.
During the Seed Sector Breakout of POTATO EXPO 2009, Thursday, January 8, 2009, at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, in San Antonio, TX, Frito-Lay North America Agro Operations Senior Group Manager Dr. Gehard Bester presented new research and findings about the recently discovered Liberobacter, a pathogen which causes Zebra Defect, a discoloration first noticed in 2005 by Frito-Lay on some of its chipping potatoes grown in Texas. The defect is manifested when affected potatoes are fried, and mottled discolorations appear—similar to the dark markings on a zebra.
“Liberobacter is the newest finding in potatoes, and is truly a new disease,” Bester said. “We are finding this pathogen can affect all potato varieties, as opposed to simply being found on chipping variety potatoes.” When Zebra Defect, also called ZC in Bester’s presentation, was first discovered in the United States in 2005, the general belief was this was only a chipping potato problem. It was also believed ZC only affected a limited geography, or a specific potato production region.
Liberobacter and ZC can have a potentially devastating effect on all potato production regions and in all segments. In 2005, one Frito-Lay field had crop losses of 30 percent because of ZC. In the frozen process industry, defects in excess of 10 percent cannot be tolerated, so Liberobacter poses a significant concern for all potato sectors.
Identifying the causes of ZC has been a patient, and often times, frustrating endeavor. Study and research focused on first closing a classical disease management triangle: potatoes were the known host, potato psyllids had long been suspected to be the vector, but a pathogen had not yet been identified. It was also originally thought ZC could be spreading through seed potatoes, but this was later found not to be the case.
“Unconventionally, we were doing an insect study prior to doing a pathogen study, and we were looking at psyllids as a host for other symbiotic organisms that may be causing ZC,” Bester said. “Our first break came from research out of New Zealand on greenhouse tomatoes where a strange mottling in the plants had been noted—without explanation. All of the affected plants had been associated with potato psyllids.”
Further investigation led to the discovery of Liberobacter—the new potato pathogen—which is said to have a gene 97 percent identical to 16S rRNA—the same gene causing citrus greening in oranges. Frito-Lay has been able to detect the disease in potato psyllids. Studies have been able to replicate the disease in tomatoes, eggplant and other solanaceous plants. The results provided conclusive evidence that psyllids were involved in the transmission of the disease in as little as one day, or even less.
This early into the discovery, there are more questions than answers regarding the spread of ZC through Liberobacter and the methods of controlling the psyllids vectoring this disease. It is known psyllids overwinter in Texas and then spread north, and the pathogen is transmitted through the psyllid’s eggs.
Potato psyllids are found all over, west of the Mississippi and as far north as Canada. The spread of ZC has already eliminated some potato production areas in South America and Mexico.
If so, then take a few minutes and fill out the USPB Chip Committee Survey, and tell the USPB Chip Committee what you think. What do you like about the program? What areas need to be improved? Where should limited program funds be allocated? What kind of opportunities produce the best results for your business?