Bringing the Economy Home

Why South Korea’s Ban On Fresh Northwest Potatoes Won’t Have A Big Effect On Idaho

Peggy Greb / USDA

Researchers Godfrey Miles, ARS, (left) and Venkatesan Sengoda, Washington State University, evaluate symptoms in fried chips made from potatoes infected with zebra chip. (USDA)

Starting Friday, fresh potatoes from Idaho, Oregon and Washington can no longer be exported to South Korea.

As Capital Press reported earlier this week, Korea’s export ban results from concerns over an insect-borne disease that causes light yellow potato flesh to darken and stripe — the zebra chip.

According to the Idaho Department of Agriculture, the state exported $469 million worth of vegetables in 2010.  Potatoes were, by far, the state’s the single largest vegetable export.

Still, Idaho Potato Commission president Frank Muir says just one Idaho potato grower sends fresh spuds to Korea.  “At this point it doesn’t hurt Idaho’s economy because we didn’t have that much product shipping,” Muir says.

The reason Idaho doesn’t ship many fresh potatoes to Korea is because that market just opened in late 2010 after it was closed over concerns about another disease — Potato Cyst Nematode or PCN.

South Korea will continue to import frozen and processed Idaho potatoes.

Muir says the ban has a bigger affect on producers in Oregon and Washington because those states were never banned due to PCN.

Muir expects the ban to be short-lived, and is confident Korea will reconsider once it better understands the science behind the zebra chip disease.  A key piece of which, says Muir, is that it’s not a risk to human health.


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