Idaho officials postpone Russian trade trip
By John O’Connell
BOISE — A trade trip to Russia promoting Idaho ag has been put on hold.
An Idaho Department of Commerce official said Eastern Idaho agricultural businesses have made promising inroads with Russian potato farmers who participated in a recent trade mission.
Five delegates representing growers from Russia’s Moscow and Lipetsk regions visited from March 17-23. IDC had hoped to lead a team of Idaho agricultural leaders, researchers and equipment suppliers to Lipetsk in mid-March, but the trip was indefinitely postponed about a week before the scheduled departure date due to the situation in the Ukraine.
IDC spokeswoman Megan Ronk said the Russian group visited Logan Farm Equipment and Agritech, Parkinson Seed Farm, Dennie Arnold Seed Farm, NEU Seed, Idaho Crop Improvement Association, Milestone, University of Idaho’s Aberdeen Research and Extension Center, Mart Produce, McCain Foods, Double L and B & H Farms.
“The participants of the inbound delegation made it clear that a return trip to Idaho in the fall will be planned to formalize purchases and equipment needs,” Ronk said. “This includes seed potatoes, cutting machinery and harvesting and planting equipment.”
Ronk said the collaboration sprang from a trade mission to Russia led last year by Gov. Butch Otter. She said IDC hopes a trip to Russia may still take place once tensions fade regarding Ukraine.
Industrial Ventillation, Inc., a Nampa-based potato storage manufacturer, had offered to finance the March trip to the Lipetsk region. IVI President and CEO Frank Bushman explained more potato acres will be needed in the region to accommodate the planned expansion of two Frito Lay plants and a Dutch company’s proposed fry processing facility.
“The timing (of the trip) was going to be perfect. This has really delayed the timing,” Bushman said.
Bushman said his company had hoped to make several trips to Russia this year and may still consider a solo visit.
Bushman said IVI has made between $1 million and $2 million in annual sales to Russia in recent years. Though agriculture hasn’t been directly targeted by economic sanctions against Russia relating to Ukraine, Bushman said the uncertainty has devalued Russia’s currency and made it more costly for Russian farmers to buy his equipment.
Mike Thornton, a research plant physiologist and superintendent of UI’s Parma Research & Extension Center, was scheduled to participate in the Russian trip to evaluate the potential for American technology to improve Russian growers’ potato production systems.
Thornton said farmers in Lipetsk use primarily Dutch equipment.
“Ours was more the educational piece, to make sure if they’re going to use the equipment they’re going to use it in a way that fits their system, their soils and the way they grow,” Thornton said.
Thornton said the farms in Lipetsk are mostly large, averaging about 1,000 acres.