Episode 284: Kam Quarles
Nov 15, 2023, Updated Nov 28, 2023
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Potatoes have become a culinary cornerstone in the American diet, gracing our tables in various forms, from crispy fries to creamy mashed goodness. However, the journey from field to fork involves a complex network of farmers, policymakers, and industry leaders working together to ensure a thriving potato industry. We had the privilege of sitting down with Kam Quarles, CEO of the National Potato Council (NPC) to shed light on the efforts and initiatives aimed at advancing potatoes in the United States.
In this Episode:
- Kam Quarles talks about his background in the produce industry and how he started at National Potato Council.
- Kam and Lori discuss how policy and food come together and how policy can impact our food supply both domestically and what our American farmers are able to export or import.
- Kam discusses how potatoes are a stable in every home and how this commodity creates so many benefits.
- Kam shares his favorite way to enjoy a potato.
- Kam talks about the breadth of where potatoes are produced.
“I couldn’t have said it better myself. It’s great to be part of this industry. It’s great to work for farmers who are producing a commodity that creates so many benefits. And I’m just circling back to your comments on WIC because those are really spot on. So it was WIC and then it was also a lot of the federal nutrition program. So it was the school lunch program, school breakfast program. There was this effort back in the Obama administration to impair potato access or just outright exclude them from those programs. And obviously that was incredibly upsetting for the potato industry, but it was even more upsetting for the school nutritionists because they saw exactly what you saw, Lori, is here you’ve got a highly nutritious, flexible item that is also incredibly low cost.
“So one in every five potatoes needs to find a home in foreign markets. Now, that could be in the form of processed or fresh. It’s more processed heavy at this point in time. We have been pushing for a lot of market access to occur in the fresh market. So we just had a major victory in opening up Mexico. This was a 25-year trade dispute between the US and Mexico to get fresh potatoes access to the entirety of Mexico. Believe it or not, we ended up at the Mexican Supreme Court fighting this battle. Again, back to the policy realm, Lori.”
“We’ve really tried to put our arms around the entire specialty crop industry under a great organization called the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance and unify under the specialty crop banner, you have almost 300 different commodities. And if we don’t focus on some core principles, some core things we want to get out of policymakers, we’re just going to get run over by our program crop colleagues who are largely much more focused because of the nature of the commodities that they produce.”
“What’s in your grocery store is a tremendous validation of all the efforts of these great US farmers, but you’re not guaranteed that. And if you make some policy mistakes, if you make some errors, that incredible bounty, you know, nothing grows in your grocery store. It gets delivered there. And that incredible bounty may not be there if folks aren’t a little bit thoughtful about how we got to this place of tremendous abundance and variety and all of this great nutrition that’s available at an incredibly low price. If you look globally, the United States is a very fortunate position.”
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