By John O’Connell
January 26, 2016
POCATELLO, Idaho — The U.S. potato industry is slowly winning cases in the Mexican legal system and working toward its goal of restoring severed market access for its fresh potatoes throughout Mexico, said National Potato Council Executive Vice President and CEO John Keeling.
Keeling, U.S. Potato Board President and CEO Blair Richardson and Idaho Potato Commission President and CEO Frank Muir updated the industry on Mexico and a host of other pressing issues Jan. 20 during the University of Idaho’s 2016 Potato Conference, hosted on the Idaho State University campus.
The Mexican market had long restricted U.S. fresh imports to within 26 kilometers of the country’s border with the U.S., until the country was opened to fresh U.S. imports in May 2014. Three weeks after the market was opened, the Mexican potato growers’ organization, CONPAPA, succeeded in getting judges to grant temporary injunctions against fresh U.S. spud imports. The original 26-kilometer restriction was reimposed and remains in place.
“We export one-fifth of the potatoes we produce in the U.S., and the Holy Grail is access to Mexico,” Keeling said.
Keeling said five cases have been resolved of the 10 temporary injunctions filed in Mexico, and the U.S. potato industry has prevailed in each case. Keeling hopes cases will be consolidated when the actual constitutional issue is heard in the Mexican court system. Keeling said the industry has hired Mexican lawyers, and legal fees associated with the effort are already approaching $500,000, but a USDA funding source intended to address market access challenges has provided financial assistance.
“We’re going to do what it takes,” Keeling said. “The constitution part could take a while. The injunction part will hopefully move relatively quickly.”
Keeling noted Congress appropriated $2 million for USDA to invest in nationwide potato breeding programs, representing a 40 percent increase.
Keeling also lauded Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, for introducing an amendment to the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act, S. 659, which was passed Jan. 20 by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Crapo’s amendment would remove the requirement for a special Clean Water Act National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit for pesticide applications made near water bodies.
Keeling believes the labels on each farm chemical already provide the rules for product applications, and adequately protect wildlife and the environment.
“If you comply with those rules, you shouldn’t need additional permitting,” Keeling said.
Richardson offered an update on his organization’s effort to donate salad bars to U.S. schools, while also offering creative menu ideas to school food service officials featuring potatoes. Richardson said the USPB program has donated 74 salad bars to schools and has commitments for 100 more.
Richardson is also optimistic that spud exports will resume their upward trend, following a drop in 2015. He said USPB invested $285,000 in 2015 specifically to regain lost foreign sales, plus another $410,000 to restore lost exports from USDA Market Access Program dollars.
Muir said interest is up in IPC’s ongoing Potato Lovers Month promotion, which has resulted in 5,146 displays by U.S. grocers and military commissaries. Muir also referenced surveys concluding potatoes ranked No. 1 in popularity from a list of 50 vegetables, and that 90 percent of consumers associated potatoes with Idaho. Idaho potatoes represented the strongest consumer association in the survey, ahead of Florida oranges.