SUN VALLEY, Idaho — Potato industry leaders believe a recent Idaho visit made by South Korean delegates has brought the Pacific Northwest closer toward restoring fresh table potato access to the East Asian market
Korea closed its borders to both fresh table and chipping potatoes from the PNW in 2012 due to concerns about zebra chip disease.
Zebra chip is caused by the Liberibacter bacterium and is spread by tiny, winged insects called potato psyllids. It ruins potatoes by creating bands in tuber flesh that darken when fried. It first surfaced in the PNW in 2011.
John Keeling, executive vice president of National Potato Council, explained June 26 during his organization’s summer meeting in Sun Valley that Costa Rica closed its borders to fresh U.S. chipping potatoes after reportedly receiving an infected U.S. shipment. Though no positive spuds were identified when U.S. officials checked the shipment, Keeling said Korea heard about the issue and closed fresh, PNW spud access.
“They’re concerned (zebra chip) could somehow be transmitted to Korea in the potatoes and impact their potatoes or other crops,” Keeling said.
Korea reopened access to fresh PNW chipping potatoes in 2012. Keeling explained chipping potatoes are handled in sealed containers, minimizing any perceived risk.
“I think it does give you a little indication of the fact that Koreans understand this is not a critical problem,” Keeling said.
While in Idaho, Keeling said the Korean delegation heard science about zebra chip and assurances that there’s no risk of table stock potatoes spreading the disease, which requires psyllids as a vector and infected potato plants for inoculum. Fresh access to the Korean market from the PNW will be discussed further July 7-11 during trade negotiations between the U.S. and Korea.
Keeling said industry leaders are now working to answer technical questions the Koreans had about zebra chip in the PNW, including psyllid monitoring methods and zebra chip seed certification policy.
“As long as the dialog is going on, I think it’s a good sign,” Keeling said.
According to NPC, negotiations will also focus on the lifting of a ban on fresh potato access from Wisconsin, Maine, Minnesota, Ohio and Michigan, implemented due to a now-discredited finding of potato spindle tuber viroid disease. Korea has a pest risk assessment underway to open fresh potato access to California, Colorado, Nevada, Nebraska and North Dakota, according to NPC.
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter said he met with Korean Consul General Moon Duk-Ho when the delegates visited Idaho and was pleased by the progress.
Pat Kole, the Idaho Potato Commission’s vice president of legal and government affairs, said Korea opened to fresh PNW spuds in the early 2000s, and the industry was just preparing to start in-country distributions and promotions when the zebra chip restriction was implemented. Kole said Koreans like potatoes and don’t grow enough domestically to cover their demand.
“We think the market has got great upside potential,” Kole said.