State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
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Lawmaker seeks to scrub spud statute

Written by Mary Wilson, Former Capitol Bureau Chief | Oct 13, 2013 7:57 PM

Photo by Wikimedia Commons

If you had every kind of potato package allowed under Pennsylvania law, you could open a weight room. But you'd be missing eight-pounders.

Pennsylvania state law allows potato farmers to sell their goods in packages weighing three pounds, five pounds, 10 pounds, 15, 20, 25, 50, 100 pounds, and multiples of 100 pounds. Eight pound bags can't be sold in the commonwealth, though they're allowed in nearby New York and Maryland.

"It's just another product that we're not able to offer to our customers," said Dan Zaffos, head of marketing at Tallman Family Farms, in Schuylkill County. He did not know the provenance of the specific weight restrictions. Neither does the state senator looking to get rid of it.

"Perhaps it made sense 10, 20, 100 years ago for the state to regulate the size of the package that a potato can come in," said Sen. Dave Argall (R-Schuylkill). "I really think that's no longer necessary."

"I know the Legislature I think 15 or 20 years ago had given them a little more flexibility," Argall said. Potato farmers can talk at length about the tweak to the law allowing them to sell potatoes in packages weighing less than three pounds.

"That's led to products such as our microwave "steamable" bag, which is an eight-minute pre-wash bag that can be cooked in the microwave easily and ready on the dinner table in 10 minutes," said David Masser, president of Masser Potato Farms, also in Schuylkill County. It was his company that lobbied years ago to allow potato packers to sell the smaller containers. Now, the family business is setting out to get rid of the packaging shackles altogether.

While the farmers over at Tallman forgo eight-pound bags, at Masser, eight-pound bags sell well in surrounding states - better than 10 pound packages. Masser said market research shows a two-pound difference in a potato package can make all the difference for customers.

"They're really no longer purchasing products to store for long periods of time," Masser said. But if the spud statute is scrubbed, his company can cut down on warehouse space that's taken up by the products he can't even sell in his own state - packages that could be switched out for smaller weight containers that might very well sell better in Pennsylvania, too.

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