Spud exports

Spud exports

David Sparks Ph.D.
David Sparks Ph.D.
U.S. potato exports generate billions in economic activity annually and support thousands of jobs in the United States, according to a new report released Feb. 26.

The report also found that “moderate and achievable” expansion of U.S. potato exports in foreign markets would generate an additional $1 billion in economic activity in the United States and support another 5,600 jobs.

“The results of the study are eye-opening and informative,” National Potato Council President Bob Mattive, a Colorado potato grower, said Feb. 26 during a media roundtable to discuss the report. “We all know that potatoes are America’s favorite vegetable. Now we also know that potatoes hold the key to unlocking some further job growth and economic development for our nation.”

Titled, “Spud Nation: The Current and Potential Impact of Expanded Potato Exports,” the National Potato Council-commissioned report was authored by economists from Michigan State University.

U.S. potato growers typically produce between 41-45 billion pounds of potatoes each year. Idaho is the nation’s top potato-producing state and Gem State farmers produce about a third of the nation’s total spud crop.

Washington ranks No. 2 in the United States in potato production and other major spud-producing states include Wisconsin, Oregon, North Dakota, Colorado, Minnesota, Maine, Michigan, Nebraska and California.

A first-of-its-kind report released last year by NPC found that the U.S. potato sector contributed an estimated $101 billion directly and indirectly to the nation’s economy in 2021.

That “Spud Nation” report, which was also authored by MSU economists, found that the potato sector generates an estimated 714,000 jobs in the U.S. and annual wages of about $34 billion.

That 2023 report marked the first time any organization has measured the national economic import of potatoes. This year’s report looked at the potential economic impact of expanding U.S. potato exports.

About 20 percent of all potatoes grown in the United States are exported, either in fresh or processed (frozen) form.

The 2024 report found the U.S. exported $2.2 billion worth of potatoes and potato products from July 2022 to June 2023.

It estimated the total contribution to the U.S. economy of those exports amounted to $4.78 billion and 33,846 jobs.

The Spud Nation report estimated that based upon a “conservative and achievable” $463 million expansion of potato product exports, U.S. gross domestic product would increase by $1.02 billion and result in an additional 5,600 domestic jobs.

“This latest Spud Nation report highlights the fact that potatoes are vital to our country and, with more trade opportunities, we will be able to deliver even more economic value into the future,” said NPC CEO Kam Quarles.

The report identified three major barriers to increased expansion of U.S. potato exports: tariffs and quotas, the value of the U.S. dollar, and phytosanitary and technical issues.

Ensuring mitigation of potential plant pest and disease issues is a legitimate concern for any nation but some countries are effectively using them as weapons to prevent market access for U.S. potato products, Quarles said.

Too often, he said, “You’re not talking about reasonable mitigation. You’re talking about countries utilizing pest and disease … excuses as reasons not to negotiate, not to open their markets, not to consider the possibility of foreign imports coming in.”

The release of this year’s report coincides with the NPC’s 2024 Washington Summit, a forum in Washington, D.C., where members discuss and advocate for the policy priorities of the nation’s spud industry.

Potato growers and industry representatives participating in the summit will share results of the recent report with members of congress and the administration to help advocate for the potato industry, said RJ Andrus, an Idaho potato grower who served as NPC president in 2023.

“This week during the Washington Summit, our growers and industry partners are charged with reminding our congressional delegations that not only are they important to their districts, they are important to the nation as a whole,” he said.

Quarles said the 2024 report “will serve as a new tool in our toolbox to advocate for our long-standing policy priority, which is expanding foreign market access for U.S. potatoes.”

The report looks at possible expansion of U.S. potato products in mature markets for the U.S. spud industry, such as Japan, Canada and Mexico, as well as potential emerging markets with strong potential for growth, such as Vietnam, Saudi Arabia and Singapore.

Japan, in particular, represents a major opportunity for growth, NPC officials said during the media roundtable. That nation is currently a major market for processed U.S. potato products but does not allow fresh potato imports from any country.

“If open, Japan would become a massive new market for U.S. fresh potato exports estimated at $150 million to $200 million annually,” Andrus said.

The U.S. industry is currently working with USDA and the U.S. trade representative’s office to try to achieve market access in Japan for fresh U.S. potatoes, Quarles said.

The U.S. request for fresh potato market access into Japan goes back more than two decades but the Japanese government has dug its heels in on the issue, he said.

“It’s a big stalling exercise right now by (Japan) and we’re trying to pry that (market) open,” Quarles said.

The 2023 and 2024 reports looked at the economic impact of the entire U.S. potato supply chain, from agricultural production to wholesaling, processing and distribution, to consumer purchases of final products through retail channels or food service providers.

“So that economic activity didn’t just benefit potato growers, but also farm laborers, process workers, truck drivers, longshoremen; and the communities that they live in all benefited from trade of U.S. potatoes,” said Mattive.

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