In a very short time, potato fields throughout the area will once again return to their lush green state as the 2015 growing season is upon us. However, even with the close proximity of these potato fields to our everyday lives, the economic impact that Washington potatoes, and the farmers who raise them, have on our local economy can often be overlooked. The School of Economic Sciences at Washington State University found that the potato industry alone has a $4.6 billion economic impact that results in the creation of 23,500 jobs throughout Washington.
This impact takes on many forms. In addition to the direct economic contribution of potato growers, processors and other potato-related companies, the potato industry also uses machinery, trucks, fuel, financial services and other goods and services that support local companies and businesses. The revenue generated from these activities helps to improve things like roads, schools and in general help to strengthen our local economies.
This type of economic contribution to our communities wouldn’t be possible without the key role of international markets. Reports show that Washington is the most trade-dependent state in the country. Washington-grown potatoes contribute to this notion, as nearly nine out of every 10 of the potatoes grown in the state are marketed outside of Washington, with a large portion of those heading to international markets. They will be shipped as either fresh table stock potatoes or may be processed into golden french fries, creamy mashed potatoes or crunchy potato chips. Dozens of countries throughout the world enjoy Washington potatoes in all of their varieties. Many of the countries throughout the Pacific Rim, in the Caribbean and Central America import many Washington potatoes. Exports of potatoes from Washington’s deep water ports last year were worth more than $927 million.
Washington’s potato growers will raise all types of potatoes this upcoming season, from russets to reds to fingerlings and more. The versatility of potatoes is unmatched, as they can be prepared in countless ways that meet the demand of global consumers. Recently, the Washington State Potato Commission conducted a trade mission to Southeast Asia to promote the expansion of Washington potatoes within that region. We were able to work with their local importers, distributors, culinary professionals and retail outlets to promote and educate these influential partners about the attributes and benefits of Washington potatoes. Efforts will be made this year to follow up on those activities and build upon the momentum that was created. Additionally, other programs are in place to continue to grow international demand for Washington potatoes.
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However, these types of efforts used to expand the use of potatoes grown in Washington can be hampered by numerous reasons outside the control of our local growers. Unfair tariffs and other restrictions imposed by international markets can impede access of potato exports in some markets. Additionally, even issues closer to home, such as the recent logistical issues occurring within the West Coast container ports, can negatively impact the industry. This in turn has harmful consequences to the overall health our local economy as many jobs are dependent on a smoothly operating container port system. When disruptions occur, those sales are lost, and consumers won’t buy more Washington potatoes once they are available again. Also, the ripple effect is the danger of losing international customers as they may cut back on their contracts due to issues such as these.
Washington is home to the most productive potato-growing region in the world. The perfect combination of sun, irrigation and mineral-rich soils makes the ideal conditions for potato farming. These elements lead to the highest quality potatoes grown around the globe. However, the success of the local potato industry and the benefits that it provides to our community is not possible without a normal operating flow through the supply chain.