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Colorado hoping NAFTA can open more of Mexico to spuds

With ongoing efforts in research projects, successes with newer varieties and encouragement from some governmental quarters, 2017 is closing out as a year of accomplishments for the Colorado potato industry.color

And it’s also been a good year for the national potato with one of the San Luis Valley’s potato veterans serving as the National Potato Council’s president, noted Jim Ehrlich, executive director of the Colorado Potato Administrative Committee in Monte Vista, CO.

Ehrlich said Dwayne Weyers, a principal at Aspen Produce in Center, CO, has served the council and the industry very well during his 2017 presidency. “He’s done a great job,” Ehrlich commented.

The council will host 2018’s Potato Expo at Rosen Shingle Creek in Orlando Jan. 10-12, immediately followed by the annual National Potato Council meeting Jan. 12-13 at the same venue, where the 2018 officers will be elected.

Ehrlich went on to say that while the industry is contending with delayed appointments of undersecretaries in the department of agriculture, reassurance has come from the office of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue concerning NAFTA and the inclusion of potato exports in trade discussions.

“We’re a little disappointed it’s taken the USDA so long to make appointments,” Ehrlich said in mid-November. “Several undersecretaries have been nominated. But concerning NAFTA, we’ve been reassured by Secretary Perdue that our issue is being included [in discussions].”

Mexico is a major market for Colorado’s fresh potatoes, and loads are allowed into a 26-kilometer border zone approved for imports. The state, as well as other production areas, is hopeful the entire interior of Mexico will open up for U.S. potatoes eventually.

“[Secretary Perdue] knows it’s an important issue and that we would like resolution, and talks are ongoing,” Ehrlich said.

Apart from the national scope, expansion of organics and also yellow varieties, as well as focus on research projects in the San Luis Valley, have brought positive results to light, Ehrlich said.

“There’s a new organics warehouse opening up,” Ehrlich said. The new shed’s certified volume is being sold by Monte Vista Potato Growers. And while conventional russet varieties continue to be dominant, yellow acreage is showing very good yields as well as good pricing for the spuds.

“Yellow acreage is probably up,” Ehrlich said. “I believe we have some new varieties that look really good, and I’ve been told yields were good in 2017. It’s a good market for us, and we’re excited that prices are looking better.”

On the research front, block grant reports were submitted in November detailing projects on soil health, CPAC promotions in Mexico, crop rotation and flavor screening. The soil health study entails the final year of a two-year study undertaken by researchers Courtney Jahn and Jane Stewart, and Ehrlich said “good data obtained will be analyzed, and we’ll see where we go in 2018.”

In his report on marketing potatoes in Mexico, Ehrlich wrote, “The goal of the project was simply to increase Colorado potato exports to Mexico by providing support to Colorado potato shippers and growers. To achieve the goal we had three key objectives: Hiring a local Mexican consultant…; Working with this consultant to gather information on Mexican potato consumption … and consumer; Taking and sharing the information that was gathered to develop relationships with Mexican potato importers and retailers…”

A consultant has been hired, and “has been a great asset to our export business in the border region,” he wrote. The goals and outcomes achieved include an extensive database for all potato markets in Mexico; the survey of 21 retail chains in Mexico to “determine how Colorado potato shippers can support their promotion efforts in Mexico,” attendance at the ANTAD trade show for three years; and hosting of 35 potential buyers in trade missions to Colorado since 2014, which Ehrlich said has helped area shippers develop new customers.

In the flavor analysis of cultivars conducted by Sastry S. Jayanty, Raven A. Bough and D.G. Holm of Colorado State University’s San Luis Valley Research Center north of Monte Vista, 15 cultivars were grown in the center’s fields. Purple/red cultivars/clones, yellow fleshed clones/cultivars, and russet cultivars/clones were tested, and the team “identified a chemical signature for the different flavor notes by correlating the taste panel sensory analysis with mass spectrometer analysis.” Flavor profiles are being developed.

As multiple projects continue on a positive note, Ehrlich said the region faces obstacles that are universal to the produce industry: a shortage of trucks and labor. “The shortage of trucks is national, and bad weather this summer made it worse, and the new rules from the department of labor for electronic recorders are not good for our shippers.”