Japan lifts 11-year import ban on Idaho potatoes after confirming lowered risk of pest invasion

TOKYO, Sept. 14 – The Japanese government lifted its import ban on raw chipping potatoes from Idaho, the largest potato producing state in the United States, for the first time in 11 years, effective Tuesday.

Because the acreage in Idaho occupies 30 percent of potato crops in the U.S. – the world’s major potato growing country – the resumption of shipments could pose a threat to domestic production.

Imports of fresh U.S.-made potatoes, used by Japanese snack makers to produce potato chips, have been on the rise in recent years, marking 28,000 tons in 2016.

Japan began importing potatoes from the U.S. in February 2006. In April that year, the nation suspended imports of all U.S.-made potatoes following detection of Globodera pallida, or pale cyst nematode, in Idaho. In February 2007, Japan resumed imports of U.S. potatoes except those grown in Idaho, under the condition that thorough soil analysis will be conducted at farms and they will not use seed potatoes supplied from Idaho.

The latest decision was made after Japan’s farm ministry and epidemic prevention commissioners of the Plant Protection Station inspected farmland soil management conditions in Idaho and confirmed the effectiveness of the pest eradication program. There are 44 counties in Idaho, and Japan will reopen its market to all of them except Bingham and Bonneville where the pest was detected after 2006.

Since potatoes are imported to Japan between February and July, the actual imports of Idaho potatoes are expected to start again next year.

The first known detection of pale cyst nematode in Japan was reported in Abashiri, Hokkaido, in 2015. The Hokkaido prefectural government this year began implementing pest prevention measures at farms where the pest was detected, with the aim of eradicating it by 2019. Some might voice concern over the resumption of potato imports from Idaho at a time when domestic potato growers are tightening guard against the pest.

According to Japan Snack Cereal Foods Association, domestically-grown potatoes occupy 90 percent of potatoes used to produce potato chips, which total some 400,000 tons. “If potato chip producers choose low-priced U.S.-made potatoes following the lifting of an import ban on fresh Idaho potatoes, it would have a big impact on domestic producers,” said a Tokyo-based potato importer, adding that influx of cheap imports could also lead to a decline in prices of domestically-grown potatoes.

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