Uruguayan contingent visits area potato farms

17 years ago

    PRESQUE ISLE, Maine – Though the sun was shining and temperatures creeped into the 80s last Wednesday, the five Uruguayans who were in Aroostook County as part of a U.S. Seed Potato Industry Tour thought it was cold outside.

The group – which consisted of an importer, two growers, one restaurateur and one retailer – was anxious to see what northern Maine had to offer in terms of potato farming.
“This is a part of the country I never thought I’d see,” said Nicolas Bevilacqua, an agronomist. “I’m very excited to be here. It’s a beautiful place … everything is very green and landscaped well.
“The technology here is similar to other parts of the U.S. but very different than what we have back home,” he said. “We don’t have a storage system in Uruguay … we really wouldn’t need one except for only a small part of the year, and a lot of the other technology is different, as well.”
Bevilacqua said his country’s main variety is the Chieftain, but he’s looking at other options.
“I’d like to have a different variety for the market, which would give us a different type of client or buyer, and possibly help boost the economy,” he said.
According to Sarah Mahler, international marketing manager for the United States Potato Board (USPB), the seed tour is typically held every year.
“The purpose of their visit is to learn more about U.S. seed potato production and see how we produce seed and maintain quality,” said Mahler. “In addition to this group visiting Maine, we also have two other groups touring Idaho and California.

“We’ve been working in Uruguay for several years now,” she said, “so we work very closely with the importer, who helped us pick the appropriate people to come on the trip with us.”
The group flew into Presque Isle July 31 and departed Aug. 2.
Isabel P. de Alegresa owns a French restaurant in Uruguay.
“To be a good cook, you need good merchandise, and we use a lot of potatoes in the kitchen,” said de Alegresa. “We primarily use Chieftains and Mountain Rose … we prefer small potatoes. The principal thing I want to learn is the use of each variety … some for fries, some for chips, some for boil.
“Hopefully I’ll be able to take what I learn back to my kitchen,” she said.
de Alegresa said everyone on the tour was very accommodating.
“People have been very, very kind,” she said. “It’s lovely all around.”
Mahler said it was important to impress upon the Uruguayans the importance of high quality seed.
“We hope that they get to learn more about U.S. seed potatoes and take a look at some new potato varieties that perhaps we could trial in their market and see if it’s a viable opportunity,” she said, “and maybe begin to import some newer varieties.
“We’ll likely do trials in Uruguay this year,” Mahler said, “so we’ll send over some new varieties to test, and hopefully from this trip they can take some of the things that they’ve learned to help us identify the varieties they like.”
The Maine Potato Board helped coordinate last week’s tour.
“When the USPB wants to show people different potato production areas in the country, they have to work with the states because they don’t know who to go see, what is interesting, or what may work, so that’s been our role,” said Timothy Hobbs, director of development/grower relations for the Maine Potato Board. “We’ve been hosting these people and showing them some things that would be interesting to everybody.
“We always hope to get increased sales,” he said. “That’s what we’re looking for … new markets, and this represents the seed or tablestock market for us. Our interest is to try to find new markets.”
Hobbs, who drove the Uruguayans from stop to stop in a rented van, said there really wasn’t any “communication barrier.”
“There are two of the five people who don’t speak any English,” he said, “and the other three have different degrees of proficiency in English, but they seem to be making out just fine. We have an interpreter who’s working with us, so it’s been a positive experience.”

Though it’s hard to predict what might happen as a result of the tour, Mahler called the trip successful.
“It’s been a great trip so far,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of good interaction and a lot of good questions answered. They’re very interested in a lot of the seed certification issues. Seed certification makes our U.S. seed a higher quality than a lot of the other countries where they might get seed, and that’s one of the things that we try to promote.”
Among the stops made in Aroostook County included the Porter Seed Farm in Ashland, Aroostook Farm in Presque Isle, Bradstreet Farms in Bridgewater, Lajoie Farms in Van Buren, and Corey Farms in Monticello.
After visiting Maine for three days, the Uruguay contingent traveled to New York to tour other growing areas.