Seed Potatoes display at Fresh Summit 2012

Guess how many varieties of potatoes are grown in the U.S.?

As I mentioned in my overview of the Fresh Summit produce convention, my pass was given to me by the Idaho Potato Commission. We were encourage to stop at all of their member booths, and I am pretty sure I ate my weight in potatoes that day.

One of the most interesting conversations I had was at the Specialty Potato Alliance booth where I took this photo.

They were displaying 41 available varieties of seed potatoes, which I thought was pretty amazing. Until he told me that there are over 500 varieties grown in the U.S.! Five hundred?!

I asked him for potato growing tips, and he suggested visiting the Potato Garden website. How can I resist ordering seed potatoes called Banana Fingerling, Purple Peruvian, Bliss Triumph, or German Butterball?

Here are a few tips from their website:

  • Ordering 1 pound of seed potatoes provides 5 to 8 seed tubers. You can plant the seed tubers whole.
  • To get more plants, you can cut larger seed potatoes into smaller piece, leaving at least one eye on each piece.
  • Order one pound of seed potatoes per 10 feet of garden row.
  • To guesstimate your yield, multiply the pounds planted by 10. Planting 5 lbs. of seed potatoes should yield 50 lbs of potatoes at the end of your growing season.

I am excited to try this and will report back next year!

More on growing potatoes:
When and how to plant potatoes from Mother Earth News
7 Ways to Plant Potatoes from Organic Gardening

Also, I asked my readers for questions they wanted answered at the Summit and Don Odiorne from The Idaho Potato Commission, aka Dr. Potato, has answered your potato questions:

How do you store potatoes so they don’t go soft or sprout?
Some people store them in the refrigerator; we don’t recommend that. Potatoes stored at 40 degrees or colder start to turn starch into sugar, so they will taste sweet. This is especially bad for potatoes you plan to fry. The cold storage can make the interior look grayish instead of white. We recommend that you place them in a cool dark place such as: under the sink in the kitchen, a pantry, closet, drawer away from the stove, heat vents, or registers. Any warmth will encourage sprouting and softness.

Tips on storing potatoes at home or in a restaurant
How we store potatoes
My potatoes have sprouted! It’s time to discard the potatoes. Note buds or short sprouts can be knocked off and the potato prepared as usual.

How are companies working to stay competitive in terms of price but still remain eco-friendly? Is this on your radar?
Growers now use technology to conserve water and use less fertilizer and pesticides [on non-organic crops]. They use more modern equipment to plant and harvest rows more efficiently at the right time of maturity and with minimal bruising. They often can use satellite imaging to discover issues with fields or sections of a planted area faster and so they can treat only the area affected.

How are you working to prevent GMO’s working their way into our food chain? Do you use any genetically modified seeds, pesticides, or Monsanto products to grow your crops?
NO IDAHO POTATOES ARE GMO. [Good to know!] In the mid-90s Monsanto introduced GMO potatoes. The large chains and retailers insisted that potato shippers and processors signed contracts insuring that no GMO potatoes would be sent to them fresh or processed for consumption by humans or animals. (This included McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Wal-Mart, Kroger, Sysco, and U.S. Foods). That limited the extent of the spread of GMO potatoes. Read more about that here.

Do you support GMO labeling?
I think this question is more targeted to soy or corn products where GMOs have spread previously and are now in the system. Drawing attention to a potato by labeling it “No GMO” when the whole crop does not have GMO can be interpreted as negative advertising just as easily as positive so I would guess that most potato farmers would question whether or not this is necessary with their own potatoes.

How do consumers know if produce has been irradiated?
Our University scientists have explored this but no one in Idaho has chosen to go further with it, so no Idaho potatoes are irradiated.

Required FTC disclosure: The Idaho Potato Commission gave me the pass to attend Fresh Summit. I was not paid to write this post.