LANSING --When the holidays roll around, people
eat more. And one thing they generally eat more of is the potato.
Sales of fresh potatoes increase around the winter holidays as people make large, traditional meals, said Ben Kudwa, executive director of the Michigan Potato Industry Commission.
This helps Michigan's economy, as the state ranks ninth in potato sales. The state's potatoes have about a $100 million value at farms and about a $600 million annual impact when factors like shipping and packaging are considered.
"This time of year, fresh potatoes are what people are looking for," Kudwa said.
According to the Agriculture Department, potatoes are the state's largest produce commodity in sales and volume. If all truckloads of Michigan potatoes were lined up end-to-end, the potato parade would stretch from Toledo to well into the central part of the Upper Peninsula, Kudwa said.
"It's a major volume product," he said. "I guess that's what potatoes are known for."
Potatoes and agriculture in general can provide a stable foundation for local economies, said Chris Long, a potato specialist at Michigan State University.
In the midst of job losses in other sectors, areas like Greenville can still rely on potato production. Montcalm County is the top-growing area in the state. Nearly all of its production is used by snack manufacturers.
"Agriculture continues to provide an underpinning for that community," Long said. "Potato production continues to maintain itself. It's is a viable area for potato production, and I see it continue to be so."
Gaylord, Kalkaska and Rogers City are also important growing areas for fresh potatoes.
Potatoes, however, have taken a hit from the popularity of low-carbohydrate diets. According to the Agriculture Department, a medium potato is fat-free and about 76 calories.
"We struggle with a lot of the fad diets," Kudwa said. "We believe that complex carbohydrates are good for you. They've been around for 4,000 years."
Turning away from potatoes is troubling, said Jeff Axford, executive director of the Michigan Seed Potato Association, which inspects seed quality for the state.
"That's kind of disturbing to see from my perspective," he said. "People are eventually going to come back. I think around the holidays people eat more potatoes. They go back to a more traditional meal. From my perspective, it's not quite a full meal if you don't have some potatoes on it."