Chris Voigt

The Washington potato industry is raising money to fund an endowed professor in soils at Washington State University, according to Chris Voigt, executive director of the Washington Potato Commission.

Washington potato exports continue to grow each year but not as fast as those of competing countries, said Chris Voigt, executive director of the state’s Potato Commission.

Potatoes from the European Union have cut into Washington potatoes’ market share on the Pacific Rim, Voigt said.

“We’re starting to see a lot of European french fries showing up in Japan, China and places where we normally didn’t run across as much of them,” he said.

Voigt attributes the growth to competitors’ larger crops, enabling them to sell excess potatoes into markets at a lower price than Washington.

“We’re actually hoping there’s a way we can grow or plant more potatoes here in Washington, because we know there is demand in the Pacific Rim, but we’re out of acres,” Voigt said. “We just don’t have any room for any more potatoes.”

The only way to increase exports is to cost-effectively bring more water to dryland production areas, or somehow increase yields, Voigt said.

“We’re trying to work on both of those,” he said.

This year, drought in the EU could mean a 20-30 percent reduction in that region’s potato volume, creating an international shortage.

“That’ll be an opportunity for us to do better,” Voigt said.

Two of the state’s largest customers, Mexico and China, have put retaliatory tariffs in place, with Mexico adding a 25 percent tariff on processed potato products and China a 10 percent tariff on french fries and a 25 percent tariff on dehydrated potatoes.

Voigt said the impact will be “substantial.”

“It’s going to make our potato and potato products much more expensive than Canada, New Zealand or the European Union,” he said. “We’re concerned about it.”

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