IDAHO FALLS, Idaho — Idaho potato shippers won’t hold their breath waiting for most of Mexico to reopen to U.S. exports.
Chris Wada, director of marketing and exports for Wada Farms Marketing Group LLC and a committee member of the Denver-based U.S. Potato Board, said he doesn’t see a resolution to the Mexico issue happening “right away.”
“It was a big win to get it opened up. Now it’s in a stalling pattern,” Wada said. “There are pending legal issues that will create precedents for the future.”
Rexburg, Idaho-based Wilcox Fresh was one of the first, if not the very first, Idaho houses to ship potatoes to Mexico, said Rob Rydalch, supply coordinator.
Despite being a long way from the border, the company saw real opportunity in Mexico.
“Freight’s an issue — we’re the next to the last guy furthest away (after Washington) — but we were really excited to hear about Mexico opening up. Anything that goes outside the country helps support the country.”
Mexican buyers tend to prefer size 90 and smaller potatoes, Rydalch said.
Unfortunately, it may be awhile before Wilcox Fresh and other Idaho shippers can send their spuds farther than the border zone, Rydalch said.
“It could be years. We’re not very optimistic it will reopen soon.”
A big question mark hangs over the Mexican export deal right now, said Frank Muir, president and CEO of the Eagle-based Idaho Potato Commission.
That’s a bad thing, given Idaho’s potential south of the border.
“The Mexican situation is the biggest unknown. Idaho is poised particularly to ship into big Mexican cities,” Muir said.
“The first weeks (of the expanded trade zone) we had great success with promotions in those cities.”
Disappointed as they were to lose those new markets for the time being, Idaho growers won’t be left high and dry, Muir said.
“Some states expanded acreage with Mexico in mind, but we didn’t really do that. We’ll go in in an orderly, judicious fashion.”
Ralph Schwartz, vice president of marketing, sales and innovation for Potandon Produce, agreed.
“We didn’t jump with both feet into Mexico. When the border closed, we didn’t have one of those 30 loads stuck at the border. We took a more cautious approach.”
Success in Mexico won’t happen overnight, Schwartz said, though he said the country could open up exciting opportunities for Idaho shippers.
“Entering any new market is a challenge. It’s going to take time to develop.”
Gary Garnand, owner of Twin Falls-based Garnand Marketing LLC, said that countries like Mexico that are highly protective of their growers will “fight like crazy” to keep shipments from other countries out.
That said, Garnand is moderately optimistic that Mexico will reopen the entire country to U.S. spud exports.