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Published October 26, 2010, 08:22 AM

Feds eye limits on spud use

Red River Valley potato growers say they’re concerned by efforts to limit spuds in federal child nutrition programs.

Red River Valley potato growers say they’re concerned by efforts to limit spuds in federal child nutrition programs.

“We’re disappointed. We feel it should be included,” says Chuck Gunnerson, president of the Northern Plains Potato Growers Association in East Grand Forks, Minn.

At issue is a recommendation by the Institute of Medicine, the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences, that the U.S. Department of Agriculture stop participants of the federal Women, Infants and Children program, known as WIC, from buying potatoes with federal dollars. The institute also calls for the USDA-backed school lunch program to limit use of potatoes.

Under an interim rule, USDA agreed to bar WIC participants from buying potatoes with their federal dollars. Potatoes are the only vegetable not allowed. Next year, the agency will roll out a final rule on the WIC program, which last year served 9.3 million children and pregnant and breast-feeding women considered at risk for malnutrition.

USDA is expected to release changes to the federal school lunch program by the end of the year. The program subsidizes lunch and breakfast for nearly 32 million needy kids in most public schools and many private ones, and those schools must follow guidelines on what they serve.

The potential changes could have a significant impact on potato growers in the Red River Valley of western Minnesota and eastern North Dakota.

Minnesota ranked fifth nationally in spud production. North Dakota ranked seventh last year and is expected to rank fourth this year.

The Red River Valley is the nation’s only large-volume producer of potatoes for the chip, fresh, seed and process markets, and many of the potatoes grown there would be affected by federal limits, Gunnerson says.

He says he’s optimistic that matters will work out satisfactorily.

To Red River Valley potato growers, the issue is simple. says Gregg Halvorson, chairman of the Northern Plains

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