EAGLE, Idaho — The Japanese government has lifted an 11-year-old ban on importing fresh Idaho chipping potatoes, officials of the Idaho Potato Commission announced Sept. 13.
Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries imposed a ban on importing all U.S. chipping potatoes in April 2006 in response to the discovery of a quarantined pest, the pale cyst nematode, in a small area of Eastern Idaho.
Trade was restored with other U.S. chipping potato states about a year later, but restrictions on Idaho were left in place.
This spring, IPC officials said Japanese chip makers experienced a shortage following a poor domestic harvest and had to stop selling some products. Japan will continue to exclude any Idaho chipping potatoes from Bonneville and Bingham counties, which encompass the PCN quarantine area.
Japan imported about 28,000 tons of U.S. chipping potatoes last year, about 3.5 times more volume than five years ago, according to IPC. Japan still won’t allow any other types of fresh potatoes from any U.S. states to be imported.
“It is a step in the right direction because you’ll never get the other fresh potatoes in there without getting this restored,” said Idaho Potato Commissioner Randy Hardy, a fresh grower from Oakley. “We’ve been really pushing for this and they’ve been dragging their feet, but I’m glad to see it get done.”
Hardy said he’s toured Japan, and it was clear to him that “they don’t grow near enough potatoes for their own needs, but they’re trying to protect their own market.”
The major shipper of Idaho chipping potatoes is American Falls-based R&G Potatoes, which was also the first U.S. company to ship chipping spuds to Japan a couple of months prior to the discovery of PCN. R&G CEO Scott Stanger said his growers started harvesting on Sept. 9 and, contingent on supply, the company would like to resume shipping to Japan shortly after the start of the new year. He said R&G is now reconnecting with old contacts in Japan and becoming educated on the shipping requirements.
“Next year, we would be interested in trying to plant to meet more market needs,” Stanger said. “We do expect this to be a very significant opportunity for both R&G and potato growers who supply chipping potatoes here in Eastern Idaho.”
IPC President and CEO Frank Muir said his organization, National Potato Council officials and U.S. Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, have had several meetings with Japanese officials, who have visited Idaho to witness the PCN eradication program.
“We’ve tested over 500,000 samples of soil in Idaho,” Muir said. “We are one state that can definitely say we know where PCN is and where it is not.”
Muir said IPC will now shift its focus toward lifting the state’s final PCN-related market-access problem. Mexico allows the importation of fresh U.S. potatoes within 26 kilometers of the U.S. border, but mandates that all Idaho fresh spuds undergo a special PCN test. Muir said the industry is asking Mexico to change its testing requirement to cover only Bonneville and Bingham counties.