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Colorado potato exports continue to grow

by Lora Abcarian | September 21, 2009
The state of Colorado has earned some bragging rights when one discusses current global markets for fresh potatoes and those markets in which potato exports continue to grow.

Tim Larsen, senior international marketing specialist with the Colorado Department of Agriculture, said that the Centennial State enjoys national ranking with a variety of its produce. Fall potatoes rank fifth, and summer potatoes rank seventh, he said.

The value of Colorado's vegetable industry from 2000 to 2008 has grown by 78 percent. According to Mr. Larsen, cash receipts for the state's crops increased to $277 million from $155 million during this time period.

The value of global fresh potato exports was $155 million in 2008, up 25 percent from 2007. "We're seeing some exciting growth," he stated.

Canada is the state's largest receiver, accounting for $99 million in fresh potato sales last season, up 22 percent from 2007. This season, Mr. Larsen is expecting a slight increase in potato sales to Canada.

Second on the list is Mexico, with cash receipts valued at $29.6 million, up 32 percent from 2007. Mr. Larsen expects fresh potato sales to Mexico to be down significantly this season, adding that sales are not affected by the 20 percent tariff imposed by the government of Mexico this past March.

"The biggest frustration is that we can't market U.S. potatoes beyond the first 26 kilometers," Mr. Larsen said. "We're excited about the Mexican market but frustrated we don't have full access to that market."

Protocols continue to be refined through the Tri-National Agricultural Accord, which represents senior state and agricultural officials of Canada, the United States and Mexico, who are working together on agricultural trade and development issues.

Earlier this year, Farm Fresh Direct LLC, headquartered in Monte Vista, CO, received the Award for Excellence in Exporting from Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter. The award recognized the company's achievements as the top state exporter for its marketing of Colorado potatoes in Mexico.

Looking at emerging markets, Mr. Larsen said that Taiwan is the third largest export destination, with sales fluctuating between $4 million and $8.5 million annually. Sales to South Korea are $3.5 million, and sales to Malaysia are $3.1 million. Potato exports to Thailand are valued at $2.8 million, and sales to Singapore are $2.2 million. Rounding out the emerging market category is Hong Kong, with sales of $2.1 million.

The Colorado Department of Agriculture has taken an earnest look southward for the past five years, contemplating the possibility of shipping Colorado potatoes to Cuba. "We certainly think Cuba offers some opportunity," Mr. Larsen told The Produce News. He said that the department's investigation of market potential has ramped up during the past four months.

While Cuba is a communist country, he said that the government has turned over 40 percent of arable land to private citizens engaged in agricultural production.

"Cuba has been a net importer," Mr. Larsen said of that nation.

The Promoting American Agricultural & Medical Exports to Cuba Act of 2009 was introduced in the U.S. Senate earlier this year. The bipartisan legislation would facilitate the export of commodities from the United States to Cuba by allowing timely and direct cash payments for agricultural goods. The legislation would require the U.S. Department of Agriculture to promote agricultural exports to Cuba and would lift the current travel ban to that country.

"Right now, government funds cannot be used to promote products in Cuba," Mr. Larsen said. Although general travel to Cuba is prohibited, he said that individuals involved with agriculture are able to travel by making arrangements with a government-licensed travel agency. Producers obtaining orders can fill them if they are licensed for export or work with a licensed export service provider.

"Trade with Cuba has a political tone to it," he stated. If the legislation becomes law, "The whole paradigm moves."