Michigan's potato farmers have until April 27 to choose whether or not to renew the Michigan Potato Industry Commission, allowing it to continue its research, promotion, advertising, education and market development functions, as well as the development and dissemination of market and industry information.
"If we have any issues whatsoever they're always there to help," says Diane Hanson, whose family grows potatoes outside Cornell in the central Upper Peninsula. Hanson said the commission enjoys broad support among growers, and plays a vital research role for growers' benefit.
Hanson's son Ted is a member of the commission's research committee, and has a front-row seat on some of the commission's most vital work.
"The commission puts a lot of money toward the breeding of potatoes, looking to find new varieties," he says.
Experimental plots on farms across the state test new varieties' growing characteristics and suitability for Michigan's climate and soils. Other research areas include pest and disease resistance, weed control and long-term storage.
MPIC helps support an academic specialist currently working on soil health and quality issues, and sponsors a leadership institution for growers interested in an intense 10-day instructional program focused on marketing, media and industry relations.
"Michigan's potato growers have been extremely supportive of so many programs the commission has run," says MPIC Executive Director Ben Kudwa.
Michigan is a top-10 potato-growing state, producing almost 4% of the nation's crop. Farms prosper best in areas with the right combination of soil and an abundant water supply. Antrim, Bay, Delta, Dickinson, Monroe, Montcalm, Presque Isle and St. Joseph are the state's biggest potato counties.
Relatively few Michigan potatoes find their way to the grocery store produce section; most are processed into chips or used in soup.
Established in 1970, MPIC faces a renewal vote every five years. Producers are currently assessed 3.5 cents per hundredweight. The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) mailed ballots to the state's potato growers last week; voting opened April 16. All ballots must be filled out completely, signed and postmarked by April 27, and sent to MDARD, Attn: Executive Office, P.O. Box 30017, Lansing, MI 48909.