Kimball Midwest’s Ed Mans shows off Tuesday at the 2013 Southern Rocky Mountain Agricultural Conference at Ski Hi Park. Kimball Midwest, a member of the industrial maintenance aftermarket, is one of many vendors at this year’s event.
Ken Berns, Green Cover Seed, Bladen, Neb., displays his cover crops seeds on Monday. Cover crops are an element of soil health, which is on today’s conference agenda.
These Colorado potato seeds were a topic of the 2013 Potato Management Seminar.
Courier photos by Lauren Krizansky
Courier staff writer
MONTE VISTA — Potatoes were the talk of the first day of the Colorado State University (CSU) Extension 2013 Southern Rocky Mountain Agricultural Conference.
The Potato Management Seminar included presentations from a number of CSU researchers and a few industry specialists from outside the area, drawing a number of producers to the Ski-Hi Park in Monte Vista on Monday.
Washington D.C.-based National Potato Council Executive Vice President and CEO John Keeling updated Valley producers on national agriculture matters specific to the potato industry including immigration, the Farm Bill and Mexico trade relations.
“Immigration is an important issue for the country and for agriculture in particular,” Keeling said. “We need a stable labor force.”
With millions of illegal agriculture laborers in the country today, he said legislators are talking across the aisle about how to address the situation that includes foreign guest workers and existing workers.
“We aren’t going to send 10 to 11 million people home,” Keeling said. “We can’t do without the work.”
In regards to the Farm Bill, he said significant research programs for specialty crops are not included in the extension. Over the past five years, such research has received over $15 billion to study key issues like potato diseases.
“Restoring the Farm Bill and this money is critically important,” Keeling said.
It is equally as important as gaining access to the interior of Mexico for U.S. fresh potato sales, he said. Today, the country is seeing about $30 million in profit selling within the permitted 16 miles from the border, and it could see that number increase six times if access was granted deeper into the neighboring country.
“We are in the best position we have been on this issue in a long time,” Keeling said. “The dialogue around the situation is much better.”
As of late, he said both the U.S. and Mexico Secretaries of Agriculture coordinated a panel to address importing problems like pests. The panel found only six pests a possible threat that could be mitigated, but Conpapa, Mexico’s national confederation of potato producers, revisited the discovery and did not agree with its findings, which could ultimately keep the U.S. from sending its fresh potatoes any distance over the border.
“They felt forced to come back and take dramatic action,” Keeling said. “We have their attention... We think that creates an opportunity for our government to be more aggressive with Mexico.”
From January to July 2012, U.S. fresh potato exports to Mexico totaled $21.8 million, up six percent from the same period a year ago, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Full access to the Mexican market would bring $150 million in export values, according to potato industry leaders.
A March 2003 U.S.-Mexico market access agreement allowed fresh U.S. potatoes from all 50 states into the 16 mile deep area along the border of Mexico, according to reports. The agreement also called for increased access to the five northern Mexican states in 2004 and for consideration of full access by 2005, but Mexico has failed to deliver on those commitments.
In December 2012, Keeling said 17 senators, including Colorado Senators Udall and Bennet, signed a letter to President Obama stating their interest in the continued pursuit of trade relations with Mexico.
“We are at a tipping point,” Keeling said. “It will be a long and drawn out fight and it may result in them drawing back access. Something will happen in the next eight to 10 months.”
This year’s Potato Management Seminar topics also included post harvest research; potato diseases; CSU’s status; sustainable potato production and trends; retail sustainability; potato planting management; nitrogen management; new potato selections; and Colorado Seed Act requirements.
The conference continues today, focusing on grain, forge and soil health, and Thursday, focusing on water and marketing.