By SEAN ELLIS
BOISE -- The Idaho governor's recent trade mission to Asia led to an immediate success for onion growers and several opportunities for other farm commodities.
State officials hailed the recent six-day trade mission to Taiwan, South Korea and Vietnam as a success, and Idaho farm leaders agreed with that assessment.
"I'm very confident the trade mission will translate into increased sales of potatoes," said spud shipper Lynn Wilcox, who represented the Idaho Potato Commission on the trip.
Although details of specific deals aren't ready to be released, "contracts were signed while we were there," said Idaho State Department of Agriculture Director Celia Gould, who accompanied Gov. Butch Otter and representatives of 18 Idaho companies on the trade mission.
During the mission, two fresh produce importers in Taipei, Taiwan, committed to purchase on a regular basis onions from the Idaho-East Oregon growing region.
One of the companies wants to purchase up to two containers of onions per week from the region, while the other is interested in purchasing up to 10 containers per week of early season onions, said Shay Myers, who represented the Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion Committee on the mission.
These and other companies now sell onions from the Idaho-Oregon region seasonally but want to make them available to customers on a more consistent basis, he said.
"That's a good sign," said Myers, general manager of Owyhee Produce, a grower-shipper based in Nyssa, Ore.
Myers said the trip was also valuable as an education tool. The Idaho-Eastern Oregon onion growing region is one of the largest in the world, but few people realize that, he said. "I think we were able to provide them with a better appreciation of the capability and volume we have out of this valley," he said.
While in Taiwan, Idaho Wheat Commission member Ned Moon met with members of Taiwan's flour millers association who want to purchase directly from grain elevators in Idaho and the Pacific Northwest instead of going through an exporter.
"Taiwan is really interested in buying directly and we're working on that," said Moon, marketing manager for Jentzsch-Kearl Farms, a 16,000-acre partnership in Rupert.
Moon spent much of his time cementing relationships with existing customers in Taiwan and South Korea, which get 80 percent and 50 percent of their wheat from the United States, respectively, and are the second and third main markets for Idaho wheat exports.
"Any time we can meet face-to-face with our end users, it strengthens the relationship with the end-user," Moon said.
Wilcox and other farm leaders said Otter's knowledge of Idaho agriculture was helpful. Otter, a rancher, spent the bulk of his career at J.R. Simplot Co. selling frozen french fries internationally.
"He's a good salesman. He can talk the language," Wilcox said.
While South Korea and Vietnam are relatively new markets for Idaho potato products, the state has established sales of frozen and dehydrated potato products to Taiwan.
While the mission should result in Idaho's potato industry making inroads in sales of fresh potatoes to those countries in the future, "I think preliminary success will be more in dehy and frozen," said IPC President and CEO Frank Muir.
Representatives of Idaho's dairy, beef, timber and dry pea and lentil industries were also part of the trade mission.
"We met with good success wherever we went," Gould said. "I felt like we had the one-two punch on this trade mission."