May 5, 2022
Vilsack cites potatoes-to-Mexico situation as example of ‘breaking down barriers’

During an April 29 FY23 budget hearing of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack cited the recent progress with the decades-long Mexico access dispute as an example of how the Biden administration is working to expand market opportunities for U.S. agricultural products.

During the hearing, Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Alabama) asked how USDA’s FY23 budget request would support the U.S. ag supply chain, particularly in regard to “our reliance on Chinese exports.”

Vilsack answered:

“Well, I would say that the concern that we have about Chinese exports, Congressman, is the need for us to continue to look for ways in which we can diversify so that we’re not as overly reliant on a single market. We know what happened when that market was disrupted during the trade war. We saw the devastation to producers.

Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture

“And so, we’re continually looking for ways in which we can expand new market opportunities. The Indo-Pacific framework that was announced by the USTR is one way of focusing on ways in which we can knock down barriers. Recently, additional beef sales in Japan, additional corn sales, frozen pork sales in Vietnam, potatoes in Mexico, we’re breaking down barriers so that we can expand access to additional markets.

“I think there are opportunities in Southeast Asia. I think there are opportunities in Africa. So, the budget, basically, provides us the opportunity to continue to look for ways in which we can expand presence. At the end of the day, expanding market opportunity is about presence. It’s about having people in place, which we have.

“It’s about the resources that MAP and FMD provide that — to, basically, have promotions and — and the opportunity for us to do additional trade mission. So, you’re going to see a very aggressive effort in trade missions this year. We had one in the Middle East. We’ve got one scheduled in Spain. We’ve got one scheduled in Kenya.

“We’ve got one scheduled in the Philippines. So, there’s going to be a continued focus effort on increasing and expanding our presence in these foreign markets so that we diversify, and we’re not as reliant on China as we have been in the past.”

“Clearly this is an issue that the administration is devoting a lot of energy to resolving. We appreciate their continued commitment and will need it in well into the future in order to maintain access to the highly disputed Mexican market,” said Jared Balcom, President, National Potato Council (NPC) and potato grower from Washington state.

Special crop alliance begins focus on next Farm Bill

The U.S. fruit and vegetable industry is working together to develop recommendations for a new Farm Bill under the umbrella of the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance (SCFBA). NPC CEO Kam Quarles is one of the three co-chairs of the SCFBA that has generated billions of dollars in new funding for the industry since its inception nearly 20 years ago.

“The Alliance has provided our diverse industry with discipline and focus as we work to advise Congress and the Administration on policy that matters for growers. Prior to its creation, specialty crops were a bit player in this massive bill. Our challenge this time will be dealing with a tight federal budget and keeping the overall industry united. Potatoes reach into a number of states that aren’t traditionally specialty crop powerhouses, so our presence adds great value to the Alliance,” said Quarles.

An Alliance steering committee meeting is scheduled for May 12 in Washington, D.C. This follows their initial kickoff meeting in Anaheim during the Potato Expo in January and a number of working group meetings throughout April and likely into May. The intention is to complete the SCFBA recommendations by mid-summer to be ready for a full Farm Bill debate that will likely last well into 2023.

Each year, the Potato Industry Leadership Institute (PILI) brings together outstanding potato growers and industry representatives for eight days of training and professional development, starting in a potato growing region and concluding in Washington, D.C., when the class links up with participants of the NPC Washington Summit.

PILI alum join podcast

During the 2022 Washington Summit, the “Eye On Potatoes” podcast hosted a live recording with PILI alumnus and the program’s 2022 grower-leader Doug Posthuma from Wisconsin, 2022 PILI attendee Bevan Lenz from Colorado, and Potato LEAF Vice President Mike Wenkel to talk about their personal leadership growth and value the program delivers to the industry.

Download and subscribe on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. “Eye on Potatoes” is sponsored by Syngenta.

— National Potato Council


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