Representatives of the Washington and Oregon state potato commissions returned from a trade mission just in time for Thanksgiving.

Northwest spud growers will be thankful if the 11-day trip results in more potato exports to Asia.

Bill Brewer, executive director of the Oregon Potato Commission, Portland, said the mission included stops in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the Philippines.

Brewer said there is a minimal amount of U.S. fresh potatoes exported to the Philippines by special permit, but the market is closed for the most part.

The delegation, which also included representatives of the U.S. Potato Board, National Potato Council and state agriculture departments, presented information that could change that.

“There’s a large group of folks working on changing market access,” Brewer said.

Taiwan and Hong Kong are open to U.S. exports, but Brewer and others would like to see more potatoes crossing the Pacific.

From July 2007 to June 2008, the U.S. shipped 15,995 metric tons of fresh potatoes to Taiwan, Brewer said. Oregon accounted for 20% of that volume, or more than 3,000 metric tons. 

The U.S. exported 3,283 metric tons to Hong Kong in the same time frame, but Brewer said Oregon’s share of that volume was minimal.

“We believe both of these countries can become major importers of our product,” he said.

Growing markets

Brewer said Oregon hopes to enhance what it already is doing in Taiwan. The state exports russets and Yukon golds there now and focused on specialty varieties during its trip.

Chef Lief Eric Benson of Timberline Lodge in Mount Hood, Ore., demonstrated uses of the potatoes.

“They’re using our potatoes,” Brewer said of the Taiwan market. “We’re trying to show them some different varieties to increase sales.”

Brewer said the delegation met with hotel and restaurant chefs, importers and culinary schools in Hong Kong.