Opening Mexican spud market could benefit Idaho growers

A new agricultural trade agreement between the United States and Mexico will benefit potato growers and processors in Idaho and across the country.

Last week, the U.S. Potato Board and National Potato Council announced the Mexican government will allow U.S. fresh potatoes to enter all of Mexico as part of a bilateral trade agreement. For nearly a decade, American fresh potatoes only were permitted in a 16-mile zone near the U.S.-Mexico border.

As a result of the new agreement, U.S. spuds will be allowed in all Mexican cities with populations exceeding 100,000.

“Mexico is underserved in its access to potatoes and this bilateral agreement will allow them greater access to potatoes on a year around basis,” National Potato Council CEO John Keeling said. “This is a tremendous opportunity to provide potatoes to a growing middle class … and to a potato hungry population that is close to us.”

Negotiators on both sides of the border have been working for years to resolve technical issues, including a possible cross-border spread of disease and pests.

The agreement will be particularly beneficial to Idaho, Keeling said, because many growers and processors have ties to the Mexican market.

“Idaho is already an active shipper to Mexico and this will allow (growers and processors) to expand their business,” Keeling said. “Idaho is among the states most ready to meet the needs of this new market.”

A major benefit for Mexico is access to a greater number of potato varieties, including russets, reds and gold potatoes. Russet Burbank potatoes are a major agricultural export in Idaho.

Idaho Potato Commissioner Peggy Grover said the agreement will directly affect eastern Idaho. Grover also is an assistant manager at Bench Mark Potato in Rexburg.

“It’s cheaper for Idaho growers to ship potatoes to Mexico than to New York, because it’s closer and freight costs are a very big thing,” Grover said. “We are already selling some in Mexico and I think there will be a demand for (potatoes) … this is going to be a great thing for everyone involved.”