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All U.S. potato-producing growing regions are set to benefit from a recently signed market access agreement between the United States and Russia, according to John Keeling, executive vice president and chief executive officer of the National Potato Council.

The agreement was signed March 17 and is the first of its kind between the two nations. Providing market access from all U.S. states, the document represents three years' worth of work by the U.S. Potato Board, the council and state potato organizations as well as the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service and the Foreign Agricultural Service.

Paramount to the agreement was the Sanitary & Phytosanitary Initiative, which was jointly funded by the board, the council and the states' potato industry organizations.

John Toaspern, vice president of international marketing for the U.S. Potato Board, said the three-year agreement process culminated with a visit by Russian officials to the United States. He said that coordination by the Oregon, Washington and Idaho potato commissions to bring the delegates to this country was key to the effort.

Mr. Keeling said that the United States previously shipped fresh potatoes to the Russian Far East on an ad hoc basis, and the new agreement should increase the January-August export season for domestic grower-shippers.

Initial shipments are likely to be new-crop russets in fall 2009, Mr. Toaspern said. Mr. Keeling said that "given the pattern of past shipments, [new loads] will likely come from our West Coast and [offload] at Russia's eastern ports."

But both men acknowledged that spuds from other growing areas would have the freight advantage if western Russia is looking to buy product.

Also, Mr. Toaspern said that Russian markets will likely not be mass retail but rather foodservice seeking premium potatoes.