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Maine potato growers love what they do and they do it extremely well

Potatoes are the leading vegetable crop in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. The nationwide crop contributes about 15 percent of farm sales receipts for vegetables each year. Annually over 30 billion pound of potatoes are produced in the nation.

Over 50 percent of potato sales are to processors for french fries, chips, dehydrated potatoes and other potato products. The remainder goes to the fresh market.

Economists who crunch food consumption data collected by the USDA have determined the average American eats 142 pounds of potatoes a year, or almost 365 potatoes per person. That’s an average of a potato a day. Potatoes are grown commercially in every state from Florida to Alaska, but about 30 states produce the commercial crop, including Maine.

In terms of nutrition, the potato is best known for its carbohydrate content, about 26 grams in a medium potato. That potato, eaten with the skin, provides 27 milligrams of vitamin C, 620 milligrams of potassium, 0.2 milligrams of vitamin B6 and trace amounts of thiamin, riboflavin, folate, niacin, magnesium, phosphorus, iron and zinc.

P1040927 The fiber content of a potato with its skin is equivalent to that of many whole grain breads, pastas and cereals. But unlike most of its processed carbohydrate-cousins, that medium potato has just 110 calories and is sodium and cholesterol free.

According to the Maine Potato Board, the state’s industry prides itself on producing a high-quality product, regardless of where the potatoes are destined.

Before potatoes can bear the red, white and blue State of Maine Quality Trademark -- a guarantee that the contents of the potatoes are only the highest quality -- they are inspected and pass requirements stricter than the USDA’s U.S. No. 1 grade.

Technology and innovation have changed the way Maine growers plant, cultivate and harvest potatoes. And technology and innovation have changed the way they communicate. Smartphones, social media, websites, YouTube videos and more now provide innovative ways for them to communicate with one another, their customers and consumers.

While every technological development spurs industry and company growth, the Maine Potato Board knows that consumers grow right along with it. Every step of the way, the consumer has become more knowledgeable, more savvy and harder to market to through traditional means.

Maine’s geography requires minimal reliance on irrigation to produce a crop. Growers there are blessed with a production area that receives nearly all of its crop water needs through rainfall. In a growing season that might have a typical five- to six-week dry period, Maine’s industry averages five inches of water per acre. This means that irrigation is only applied to about 25 percent of its total acres, compared to irrigation being required on 100 percent of crops in other production areas. The energy saved and environmental impact diminshed by not having to rely on irrigation to supply all of Maine’s crop water needs is significant.

Maine also stands out as a natural production area. With long cold winters, fumigating the soil is not necessary, resulting in significantly fewer pesticides used. When compared to other North American production areas, Maine uses 10 times fewer total pounds of active ingredients per acre.

Potatoes have been grown in Maine for over 200 years. The advantage of having warm days, cool nights and productive soils make it a prime production region.

Additionally, Maine’s potato growers have multigenerational family histories.

The Maine Potato Board promotes itself as helping to Growing Maine’s Economy. And its grower-members are committed to being good stewards of the land, planting the best seed, taking extreme care during growing, harvesting with the best practices and working continually on food safety and traceability.