EAGLE, Idaho — The opening of U.S. fresh potato access in Mexico beyond the 16-mile (26 kilometer) zone now permitted could be a boon to Idaho exports.

While U.S. fresh potato exports are not separated by state, trade trends are generally positive for fresh potatoes. Exports to Canada in 2009 totaled $94.1 million, up from $67.2 million in 2005.

Meanwhile exports to Mexico showed even greater growth, rising from $16.4 million in 2005 to $30.1 million in 2009.

USDA shipment figures show that only a little over 1% of Idaho fresh potatoes were shipped to export markets in 2009, but there may be room to grow.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has estimated the potential of fresh potato exports in Mexico at $50 million, but Seth Pemsler, vice president of retail and international for Eagle-based Idaho Potato Commission, said that estimate may be too low.

“There is demand. They want potatoes in Mexico City and the resort areas,” he said.

Pemsler said at least one Mexican retail chain has petitioned the Mexican government to allow U.S. spuds into the market, since Mexican growers cannot provide supply to the market on a year-round basis.

John Keeling, president of the National Potato Council, Washington, D.C., said he believes U.S. fresh potato exports could reach $100 million within a few years of complete access to the Mexican market.