Oregon and Washington agriculture officials will spend 10 days in the Philippines and Vietnam promoting Northwest potatoes.
Fresh U.S. potatoes can’t compete on price with homegrown or Chinese spuds, so the bistate delegation will stress quality, the Washington Department of Agriculture’s international marketing program manager, Joe Bippert, said.
“If we can get across the idea that the Northwest potato is a premium potato, we can demand a premium price,” he said.
The trade trip, which will involve the potato commissions from each state, will be partly funded by a $65,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture specialty crop grant.
After visiting the Philippines and Vietnam with Oregon representatives, the Washington delegation will spend two days in Myanmar, a country just now opening up to U.S. trade.
Washington is the No. 2 potato-producing state after Idaho. Oregon ranks fifth.
The state’s agriculture directors, Bud Hover of Washington, and Katy Coba of Oregon, will lead the mission. The trip, which begins Oct. 28 in Manila, will combine networking, politicking and cooking.
Delegation members plan to talk with importers, lobby for lower tariffs and show that potato cuisine doesn’t end with french fries.
Chef Leif Eric Benson, a member of the Oregon Potato Commission, will demonstrate potato-centric recipes to chefs at high-end restaurants in Manila, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
Connell, Wash., farmer Ted Tschirky, one of two Washington potato growers on the trade mission, said he will stress that Northwest farmers can be relied on to produce a high-quality crop and that potatoes are “good for you, cooked in the right manner.”
“We’re highly dependent on creating new customers since our demand in the states is sliding a little bit, depending on the year,” he said.
The Philippines, Vietnam and Myanmar are potential growth markets for U.S. potatoes, though in different ways.
The Philippines began allowing the import of fresh U.S. potatoes in June 2013. The Philippines already was one of Washington’s top customers for processed potatoes, buying $42.9 million worth in 2013.
Processed potatoes for fast-food restaurants will remain Washington’s biggest market in the Philippines, but the trade mission will emphasize fresh potatoes, Bippert said.
Washington sold $335,000 worth of fresh potatoes there in 2013.
A USDA analysis this month reported that the number of U.S. potatoes coming into the Philippines is growing rapidly. Still, Filipinos are largely unaware about the availability, variety and uses of U.S. potatoes.
In Vietnam, the country’s first McDonald’s restaurant opened in February in Ho Chi Minh City, portending a greater demand for processed potatoes.
Washington exported $2.9 million worth of processed potatoes and $591,000 worth of fresh potatoes to Vietnam in 2013.
In Myanmar, the delegation will make contacts in what had been one of the most reclusive countries in the world.
Myanmar’s military rulers in 2011 opened the country of 53 million to U.S. trade. Washington sold $2.9 million of wheat in 2013 to Myanmar but little else.
“It’s really a brand new market,” Bippert said. “There is a big potential. They’re very dependent on trade. They import a lot of their food.”