ROCK SPRINGS - Americans love their potatoes.
Americans consume 30 pounds of potatoes per person per year, and most people eat some form of potato every day, according to the Pennsylvania Co-op Potato Growers Inc., Harrisburg.
"Potatoes are one of the most important food crops worldwide. They are especially important for developing countries," said Robert Leiby, county extension director for Penn State Cooperative Extension in Lehigh County.
Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich
Ken Boozel of Martinsburg smells a potato while checking out several varieties grown in Pennsylvania Tuesday at Ag Progress Days in Rock Springs.
Some 30 varieties of potatoes were on display this week at the Penn State Potato Tent at Ag Progress Days.
Although not a leader in potato production like it was about 100 years ago, the potato - an important crop in Cambria County - remains significant in Pennsylvania. The state harvested $34.5 million worth of potatoes in 2009.
"My grandpa grew potatoes in the early 1900s. We were one of the powerhouses back then, when we were at 200,000 acres. Now we are at about 14,000 acres across the state," said Barbara Christ, senior associate dean in Penn State's College of Agriculture and faculty member in charge of the potato program for at least the last 25 years.
At least a dozen varieties of potatoes are grown regularly in Pennsylvania with the main ones being round reds and round whites, long whites, russets and fingerlings, said Tom Lyon, division manager of the Pennsylvania Co-Op Potato Growers.
Some varieties are used for making potato chips - Pennsylvania has more potato chip companies than any other state, according to Christ - while others are sold in markets and grocery stores and some are converted into potato flakes.
"We have a very significant potato chip industry," Leiby said.
Through their Penn State Potato Variety Trials, Penn State researchers continue to look for new varieties of potatoes.
"There are a lot of new varieties, but some have not been released," Leiby said. "The growers are interested in seeing what can replace some of the older varieties."
Unfortunately, because of the hot, dry summer, the 2011 potato crop may not be the best.
"We had too much [rain] in the spring, then it was too dry and hot. Now we are getting rain while we are starting the harvest. A little rain is good, but too much is not good," Lyon said. "The harvest will be a little late because the potatoes were planted later than usual. It will likely be a normal to less than normal crop."
Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.