Mexico holds great promise for SLV potato growers

Representative Donald Valdez (second from the left) along with Commissioner of Agriculture Kate Greenberg (center left), Governor Polis (center) and USDA Undersecretary Jenn Moffitt (center right) pose with producers from the San Luis Valley during Polis' visit to Monte Vista celebrating the recent trade agreement with Mexico. Photo by Priscilla Waggoner

MONTE VISTA – For almost a quarter of a century, potato growers in the United States have wanted full access to the market in Mexico. That goal was finally accomplished on May 11 when the first shipment of U.S. potatoes crossed into Mexico, headed south past the border zone and into the interior of the country.

Since that first shipment, eleven more trucks have crossed the border carrying fresh potatoes from the U.S.

On Monday, Governor Polis, USDA Undersecretary Jenn Moffitt and Colorado Agriculture Commissioner Kate Greenberg joined Jim Ehrlich, executive director of the Colorado Potato Administrative Committee, in Monte Vista to celebrate the achievement.

“Mexico is a huge market for agriculture,” Polis said, “Up until now, we’ve been left out of reaching those markets. This agreement has changed all that.”

The National Potato Council states that the U.S. exported $60 million of fresh potatoes to Mexico in 2021. According to Polis, opening up all of Mexico to U.S. grown potatoes could result in a possible increase of $190 million export value increase – or $250 million each year - in the next five years, a figure that Polis suggested he thinks is conservative. That equates to a four-fold increase in the amount of potatoes exported south over current levels.

Locally, the expansion will have a significant impact. When asked, Jim Ehrlich told the Courier, “We shipped 1.22 million cwt. of potatoes to Mexico from our 20-21 crop. That represents $17 million in their market.”

Polis touched on the enormous effort put into the agreement by Colordo’s Department of Agriculture, including a trip where he and Kate Greenberg, commissioner of Agriculture, travelled to Mexico to meet with officials and officials from Mexico coming to Colorado to observe productions in the state.

Undersecretary Moffitt echoed Polis, saying that “the San Luis Valley showcased to Mexico what American production is all about.” She went on to add that standard healthy farming practices in the valley, like crop rotation, were discussed. “Their observation of production has given full confidence to Mexico. Growers here are some of the best in the world. You produce a high quality product, and we will only ship the best product south.”

Polis further added that the Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador recognizes the importance of establishing a “western hemisphere supply chain”, the value of which has become even more apparent in recent years.

“We reached an endurable agreement,” Polis said.

Until recently, the U.S. exported potatoes to Mexico but they were limited to a 22 mile stretch along the border. Anything further than that was prohibited, with the reason going back more than a decade.

Twenty years ago, the United States entered an agreement with Mexico to open trade with the import of avocadoes from Mexico in exchange for exporting potatoes from the U.S. However, while the import of avocadoes increased, potatoes from the U.S. were unable to make it across the border, largely due to resistance from growers in Mexico protecting their market.

In 2011, Mexico finally opened up to importing potatoes, but limited delivery to a zone of 36 kilometers (about 20 miles) that ran the entire length of the border. That led to a wave of legal cases filed by growers’ organizations in Mexico trying to protect their domestic production and prevent competition from importers.

Those cases finally made it to Mexico’s Supreme Court in 2018.

Three years later, in March of 2021, the court issued their ruling, rejecting the cases filed by Mexican producers and granting full access by U.S. potato growers to all of Mexico.

Polis praised the assistance of numerous officials in helping make the agreement possible, including U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

After heralding the agreement as being very important to potato growers in the valley, Jim Ehrlich made special mention of the efforts Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet made in opening up Mexico’s markets to Colorado potato growers.

In closing, Polis acknowledged that most view Idaho as the number one potato grower in the U.S.. “Watch out, Idaho, here we come!” he said.

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