Slow, costly boat to Thailand likely to discourage Maine seed potato growers from exploiting new market

Posted March 02, 2011, at 6:10 p.m.
Last modified March 02, 2011, at 10:40 p.m.

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — A federal announcement that Maine seed potato producers can now ship their potatoes to Thailand likely won’t have a big impact on the industry, Maine Potato Board officials said Wednesday.

Don Flannery, executive director of the Maine Potato Board, said that he doesn’t believe that many people in the industry will take advantage of the new ruling because of the logistics involved.

“It would be too costly and time consuming to ship to Thailand,” said Flannery. “So it likely won’t really affect the industry in Maine.”

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced on Tuesday that U.S. seed potato producers from 10 new states would be eligible to ship their potatoes to Thailand. The newly eligible states are Colorado, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New York, North Dakota, Wisconsin and Wyoming. In 2009, Thailand announced it would accept seed potatoes from California, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

“This is a promising development for U.S. seed potato producers who will now be able to compete in Thailand, the largest potato growing country in Southeast Asia,” Vilsack said in a written statement. “Southeast Asia is one of the fastest growing markets for U.S. agricultural products, and exports there are expected to grow by more than 25 percent this year. This action by the government of Thailand will provide buyers with additional supplies of high-quality seed potatoes.”

The United States exported more than $10 million in seed potatoes worldwide in 2010. Initial estimates from USDA are that sales of U.S. seed potatoes to Thailand may reach $500,000 during the first year, with potential for additional growth in the future. Thailand imported nearly $5 million worth of seed potatoes in 2010, largely from the United Kingdom and Canada. Seed potatoes are produced to be used for planting new crops of potatoes and, once planted, grow into table-stock potatoes.

Flannery said that any increased opportunities for potato growers and producers is good for the industry, but he said that Maine growers likely will continue to take advantage of opportunities to sell their product closer to home.

The market opening for U.S. seed potatoes in Thailand follows months of negotiations between Thailand and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and a review of U.S. seed certification procedures, seed cultivation practices, and phytosanitary mitigation measures.

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