San Luis Valley taters

The San Luis Valley is home to a hot bed of potato activity, as Colorado remains one of the nation's top potato-producing states.

A ruling by the Supreme Court of Mexico could mean an improved situation for potato farmers in Colorado's San Luis Valley.

The April 28 5-0 ruling lifts a 18-year-long restriction on U.S potatoes that until recently limited its importation to just 26 kilometers, or just over 16 miles south of the U.S.-Mexico border. 

According to the National Potato Council, Mexico is the third largest export market for U.S. potatoes and products, with sales of over $270 million in 2020. Even with the 26-kilometer restriction, Mexico is the second largest market for fresh potato exports from the United States, accounting for 106,000 metric tons valued at $60 million in 2020. "The U.S. potato industry estimates that access to the entire country for fresh U.S. potatoes will provide a market potential of $200 million per year" over the next five years. 

About 10% of Colorado potatoes grown in the San Luis Valley of south central Colorado are exported annually to Mexico, according to the Colorado Potato Administrative Committee (CPAC). More than 70 varieties of potatoes are grown in the San Luis Valley. The USDA reported in 2019 that San Luis Valley potato growers produced about 18.39 million cwt (a unit of measurement equal to 100 pounds per hundred weight) or just over 1 million tons, down slightly from the previous year.

Miguel Diaz, a member of the CPAC board, said in a statement Saturday that for potato growers in the San Luis Valley, the ruling is going to be a huge opportunity to expand Colorado's market share to the southern border, which was well overdue according to the original NAFTA agreement and its successor, the USMCA.

But Jim Ehrlich, executive director of CPAC, is more measured in his enthusiasm for the ruling. "We are in a good position to take advantage" of the ruling but can't increase production for now because of the extreme drought facing Colorado. The six-county San Luis Valley is currently rated as abnormally day to moderately dry, according to the US Drought Monitor. 

Ehrlich believes increased exports will result from buyers in Mexico, such as Walmart. "It's about servicing the customer," he explained. 

"This is a favorable ruling but should be taken with a grain of salt," Ehrlich said. He indicated that the fight over U.S. potato exports is not over.

The Supreme Court ruling resolves a decade-long lawsuit filed by Mexican potato growers against the Mexican government seeking to prevent competition from imports. The Mexican government lifted the mileage limit in 2014 but it was never enacted, because the National Confederation of Potato Growers of Mexico sued the government, "claiming Mexican regulators have no authority to determine if agricultural imports can enter the country," according to the National Potato Council. 

“This ruling is consistent with Mexico’s obligations under the USMCA and the WTO. It represents a major step forward in the U.S. potato industry’s efforts to provide consumers throughout Mexico access to fresh, healthy U.S.-grown potatoes,” said Jared Balcom, vice president of trade affairs for the National Potato Council and a potato grower from Pasco, Wash. “After decades of delay, we hope this ruling represents a light at the end of the tunnel and that Mexican regulators will immediately begin working on regulations to allow for the importation of fresh U.S. potatoes throughout their country.”

“This is terrific news for both Colorado potato growers and those across the border who enjoy delicious potatoes grown in Southwestern Colorado,” said Gov. Jared Polis. “I support a strong trade relationship with Mexico and am glad that now we’ll be able to have another opportunity for economic exchange.”

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