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Va. Irish potatoes miss St. Patrick’s Day but find a summertime niche

CAPEVILLE—When Americans celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with potato dishes, they’re not eating Virginia potatoes. That’s because the Virginia potato industry has a special niche in the marketing season—from mid-June to mid-August.

But the chairman of the Virginia Irish Potato Promotion Board says missing the holiday is fine with him.

"We want people to eat potatoes 12 months out of the year," so the important thing is to emphasize the nutritional benefits and ease of cooking potatoes year-round, said Bruce Richardson, a Northampton County potato, corn, wheat, soybean and vegetable grower and a director of the Northampton County Farm Bureau.

"We’ve really focused our attention on taking a raw product, or even using processed potato products, and coming up with recipes that are nutritious and have a homemade appeal to them. That’s been the focus of marketing efforts" from the U.S. Potato Board, said Richardson, who’s also a national director of that organization.

"Potatogoodness.com has great consumer research on quick recipes, how to enjoy potatoes in a healthy diet and the nutritional value of potatoes," he said. "Today’s working parents have to come home and fix a meal, sometimes in half an hour, because of all the time demands on them and their families. These tips really can help."

While the national organization works to promote consumption, the Virginia Irish Potato Promotion Board has spent most of its budget in recent years supporting research trials at Virginia Tech’s Eastern Shore Agricultural Research and Extension Center. "We’ve been funding research on better-yielding varieties, as well as ways to reduce our fertilizer usage to protect the environment and reduce our cost of production," Richardson said.

The Virginia board’s budget is funded by a self-assessment by growers of 2 cents per 100 pounds of potatoes sold—between $13,000 and $18,000 a year in recent years. With several variety trials coming to an end this year, growers hope to spend some targeted dollars promoting Virginia potatoes as one of the best locally-grown products consumers can buy during mid-summer.

Contact Richardson at 757-641-2108 or Norm Hyde, VFBF communications, at 804-290-1146.

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