Potato conference, minus spud bar, goes online

For the Basin Business Journal | January 23, 2021 1:00 AM

MOSES LAKE — Like most conferences in the time of COVID-19, this year’s Washington-Oregon Potato Conference has moved online.

Which means it will include everything but the hugely popular potato bar.

“How do we send everyone a potato?” asked Brandi Tucker, the commission’s director of marketing operations. “To make up for it, we’re going to have some neat giveaways.”

The four-day conference begins on Monday, Jan. 25, and is scheduled to last through Thursday, Jan. 28, and will include sessions on certification for pesticide use in English and Spanish, updates on laws and market conditions in Oregon and Washington, the latest research, and an online trade show.

Tucker said sponsors and attendees at the trade show — which normally fills both the main hall at the Three Rivers Convention Center and the floor of the Toyota Center — are down more than half this year to 70 from the normal 170 exhibitors.

“It’s a trying time for so many businesses. A lot of our of exhibitors are small businesses,” she said.

All of the sessions of this year’s potato conference will be held sequentially, so attendees will not have to choose, with the exception of cultivar and Spanish-language lectures, Tucker said. All talks will be pre-recorded, but presenters will be on hand to answer any questions live afterward, Tucker explained.

“And they will be recorded so folks can go back and watch later,” she said. “But they won’t get pesticide credits if they watch the recorded sessions. Those must be attended live.”

Attendees will also be able to text and live chat with other conference and trade show attendees, Tucker added.

“Customers can meet with clients they haven’t seen in a year,” she said.

To encourage people to attend the virtual trade show, Tucker said conference organizers have planned “a couple of games” that will allow visitors to collect “spud stamps” and compete to visit the most vendor “booths,” as well as download brochures, watch videos and collect recipes.

As for the giveaway baskets intended to replace the potato bar, Tucker said they will feature Columbia Basin brewers and wineries like Ten Pin and Jones of Washington, as well as help businesses in the Tri-Cities which have been hurt by the lack of convention business.

Tucker said the commission still hopes to have the conference live and in person next year.

“Oh my gosh, yes, that is our goal. We’re hoping that it will happen,” she said.

The conference begins at 1 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 25 with talks followed by a panel discussion from:

• Pesticide label safety information by Kit Galvin, a senior researcher at the University of Washington’s Pacific Northwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center;

• Mike Griffel on technology to combat potato virus Y;

• Lior Goren-Ruck of Propsera Technologies on the use of AI in transforming how potatoes are grown;

• Trevor Mecham, Vice President for technology, strategy and industry relations of Valmont Industries, on the future of irrigation.

• On Tuesday, Jan. 26, the conference resumes at 7:55 a.m. with sessions on potato diseases, pests and potato health, the Spanish session at 1 p.m., a separate cultivar session at 1 p.m., with both sessions set to finish and adjourn at 3:30 p.m.

On Wednesday, Jan. 27, the conference continues at 7:55 a.m. with talks on planting, cultivating and managing potato fields more talks about pests and diseases, set to end at noon. At 1 p.m., Oregon Potato Commission Executive Director Gary Roth is set to speak, following by Washington Potato Commission Executive Director Christ Voigt at 1:20 p.m., Kam Quarles of the National Potato Council and Mike Wenkel of Potato LEAF at 1:40 p.m., John Toaspern of Potatoes USA at 2 p.m., and Laura Scandurra of the Potato Sustainability Alliance at 2:20 p.m. The day will end with a Q&A session beginning at 2:40 p.m. and adjourn at 3 p.m.

The final day of the conference begins on Thursday, Jan. 28, at 7:55 a.m., with more talks on potato pests and diseases, how late-season irrigation affects potato fields, and the Washington Department of Labor and Industry’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Conference is set the adjourn for 2021 at noon.

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached at cfeatherstone@columbiabasinherald.com.