Vol.4 ISSUE 1 SPRING 2011
This year, the USPB initiated cut seed potato trials in Nicaragua, Sri Lanka and the Dominican Republic.
Because farmers in tropical countries typically plant whole tubers, they are unfamiliar with the concept of cutting seed potatoes. Cut seed trials are being conducted to teach potato producers how to cut seed potatoes profitably, demonstrate through experimental plots to growers the lower cost and higher revenue advantages of cutting seed potatoes, convince the governments to lift their restrictions on seed size and to increase sales of US seed potatoes. USPB Team Seed visited Sri Lanka and Nicaragua in February to provide seed cutting instruction and help with planting the trials. Growers in target markets are looking forward to learning about the trial results to determine if a higher profitability will justify continued traditional use of the larger size seed. Trials will be planted in the Dominican Republic in May 2011.
John Toaspern, USPB Vice President International Marketing, recently traveled to South Africa to speak at the African Potato Association conference. He spoke on the potential that imported US seed potatoes present for African potato growers. Toaspern based his presentation on research conducted with US seed potatoes in the Dominican Republic. In those studies, it was proven that using imported US seed potatoes generates a higher return on investment for the local growers. The higher yields more than offset the higher cost of the seed, leading to increased grower sales. Toaspern received a positive response to his presentation, though many obstacles exist to the export of US seed potatoes to Africa. Attending and speaking at the conference provided a good opportunity to let a large number of people, from a variety of countries, know the US is interested in exporting seed potatoes to Africa. The association is a loosely organized group of researchers and others working in the potato sector in Africa. There is no staff or actual structure to the African Potato Association, with the hosting of the conference rotating from country to country. The next meeting will be in three years in either Kenya or Uganda.
The National Potato Council (NPC) and the USPB are pleased to announce the Government of Thailand has approved the states of Colorado, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New York, North Dakota, Wisconsin and Wyoming to ship seed potatoes to Thailand. The official announcement occurred February 3, 2011 in the Thai government Royal Gazette. The states of California, Idaho, Oregon and Washington were approved to export seed potatoes to Thailand in the fall of 2009.
Access for seed potatoes from these states was based on a review of the seed certification procedures, seed cultivation practices and phytosanitary inspection processes in a representative sample of states. Two officials from the Thai Ministry of Agriculture visited New York, Colorado, Wisconsin and Maine in July 2010. The state potato grower organizations, along with growers, state departments of agriculture and seed certification officials in these states provided excellent information to the visitors and deserve much of the credit for the success of the visit. The visit was organized by USDA’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and the USPB and was paid for in part by Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops (TASC) funds granted by USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) to the USPB.
The announcement recognizing these states also establishes a set of standardized phytosanitary requirements for the seed potatoes. Imports of seed potatoes into Thailand also require the issuance of an import permit by the Thai government. The NPC and USPB will continue to work with APHIS and FAS to negotiate greater access for US seed potatoes to Thailand.
Thailand is one of the largest potato producing countries in Southeast Asia, with annual production averaging around 120,000 metric tons per year. Much of the local potato production goes to the three large potato chip manufacturers in the country which supply regional markets with finished chips. Thailand imported 3,188 metric tons of seed potatoes in the 2009/2010 July-June marketing year. The majority of these were from the European Union, along with Canada shipping 830 MT. It is expected US seed potato growers will now be able to compete with these traditional suppliers, though it will take some time for relationships to be established and exports to materialize. The US shipped 2,463 MT of fresh chipping potatoes to Thailand in 2009/2010 under a strict quota system imposed on potato imports by the Thai government.
The NPC and USPB would like to thank the employees of USDA’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service and Foreign Agricultural Service that worked to secure this greater access for US seed potatoes.
The market for potato chips and related products is growing rapidly as increasing numbers of Brazilians move into the middle class. About 30 large and mid-size growers provide most of the potatoes to chip processing plants. Chip-stock is harvested year-round and all is delivered from the field to the processor. A significant portion of seed for chip-stock growers is produced in Brazil, but imports are required to meet needs and to assure a secure supply. The strong Brazilian currency, relative to the US dollar, favors imports.
A Frito Lay subsidiary, with approximately 50 percent of the chip market, accepts only Frito Lay and Atlantic potato varieties. The remaining, smaller companies are receptive to other varieties, as long as they meet quality standards. Growers for these companies are the target for new US varieties now undergoing trials in Brazil.
Sales of potato chips and related products in Brazil have doubled over the past five years; an average annual growth rate of 15 percent. Processors anticipate continued growth over the next several years and are scrambling to secure supplies of potatoes. Frito Lay in Brazil is investing in plant expansions and acquisitions that will double capacity over the next five years. Contract prices for potatoes delivered to large and medium-size processors, as of March 2011, was equivalent to US$46 per metric ton (US$21 per cwt).
Thirty large-scale growers and groups supply most of the potatoes for chip factories. A few of these growers have only chip-stock, but most also produce for the fresh market and/or for frozen French fries. Atlantic is the standard variety for chips, accounting for 80 to 90 percent of chip processing.
Given processors rely entirely on field run potatoes, this can lead to shortages when rain or other weather events delay harvest in key growing areas. There is some interest in short-term storage facilities to overcome this problem, but cost would be high as all storage must be refrigerated. Growers often plant in more than one region to enable them to harvest in seasons inappropriate for potato production in their home region.
Major pest and disease problems include PVY, for which Atlantic is particularly susceptible, heat necrosis, late blight, blackleg, and sweet potato whitefly (Bemisia tabaci). Whitefly was a serious problem in warmer areas this past season.
Average yields of Atlantic are about 30 to 35 metric tons per hectare (268 to 312 cwt/acre). Yields are lower in the warmer, wetter summer season and higher in the cooler, drier winter period, often exceeding 40 tons per hectare (357 cwt/acre). Harvesting is mostly by hand. A few growers of processing potatoes are moving to mechanized harvest as worker wages increase and government regulations become more difficult to meet.
Brazilian growers use both domestically produced and imported seed. Several of the largest growers and groups produce their own seed using various technologies. Some start with in vitro tissue culture; others purchase plantlets for mini tuber production in their green houses. Some growers attempt to produce all of their own seed, while others hedge their bets, importing as well as producing. Many growers, however, rely entirely on imported seed.
Atlantic seed is imported from Canada, Scotland, Argentina, Chile and the United States. Brazilian growers prefer single drop seed ranging from 30 to 65 millimeters (1 1/8 to 2 5/8 inch diameter). Fifty mm (2 inches) is considered an ideal size.
USPB Seed Potato Highlights is a semi-annual newsletter from the United States Potato Board (USPB) charting the Board’s activities in developing new markets, channels and products for US Seed Potatoes around the world. If you have any questions, or an interest in learning more about new opportunities in the seed potato segment, contact the USPB at 303-369-7783 or e-mail your request to:
©2011 United States Potato Board