Governor visits Valley to make the announcement; signs Simpson bill that brings $30 million to Rio Grande Basin

EXPECT more truckloads of potatoes grown in the San Luis Valley to be headed south into Mexico in the near future.

Gov. Jared Polis showed up in the Valley on Monday bearing good news. Joined by potato growers and U.S. Department of Agriculture Undersecretary Jenny Lester Moffitt, Polis announced a new agreement that opens up the entire country of Mexico to potato exports from Colorado.

“As you know we are the second biggest potato producing region overall, but we are the best-situated potato region for export to the Mexican market and we are very excited about what the opportunity means,” said Polis.

He said the state and the Colorado Potato Administrative Committee headed by Jim Ehrlich will work next at identifying the specific regions of Mexico to increase Colorado potato exports and identifying buyers in Mexico.

Increasing potato exports to Mexico was one of two stops Polis made in the Valley. He also joined State Sen. Cleave Simpson and a host of local dignitaries to sign two water-related bills into law that were sponsored by Simpson:

  • SB22-028, the Groundwater Compact Compliance Fund that will provide $60 million to the Rio Grande Basin and Republican River Basin for groundwater compact and interstate compliance regulations.
  • HB22-1316, the Colorado Water Conservation Board Construction Fund which pays for items like satellite monitoring system operation and maintenance, weather modification permitting, Colorado floodplain map modernization, among other projects.

Cautious optimism

Working with Mexico to get more potato exports from Colorado was greeted with cautious optimism by Valley farmers. The U.S. and Mexico had worked out a similar arrangement seven years ago, said Ehrlich, only to have Mexico revert back to limited exports 11 days into the agreement.

Ehrlich said there is hope this new agreement will last longer, which Polis said it will since Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador signed off on the agreement and López Obrador will be in office through September 2024.

Ehrlich credited U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet for their persistent efforts to get Mexico to open up on agriculture exports. “For years, I’ve worked with Colorado’s potato growers to cut through red tape and restore access to the industry in Mexico,” Bennet said. “I’m pleased to see the first shipments of U.S. fresh potatoes to Mexico in over 25 years. I’ll keep fighting to keep this market open.”

Ehrlich said Vilsack, during his time as ag secretary under President Obama, had been working on getting Mexico to agree to more exports and was able to pick up that work and complete it when President Biden named Vilsack his ag secretary.

“We hope this will be a durable agreement over time,” Ehrlich said.

Last year, Colorado exported more than 122 million pounds of potatoes to Mexico, according to the governor’s office. Colorado exported $1.4 billion of goods to Mexico, including potatoes, making it Colorado’s second largest export destination. With this new announcement the U.S. has begun exporting potatoes beyond the 26-kilometer border zone that previously marked the limit of their export, the governor said.

The Valley exports potatoes by truck into Mexico. The Mexicans are partial to the alpha potato, but Ehrlich and Polis said the new agreement will yield Mexico all types of potatoes grown in the Valley.

“Our growers here are some of the best potato growers in the world,” Ehrlich said. “I anticipate that we will only ship our very best product to Mexico.

“We’re going to expose them to all different kinds, reds, yellows, russets, we anticipate we’ll expose them to everything.”

The competitive Polis, who has chided neighboring New Mexico that the green chile grown in Colorado is superior, took aim at Idaho with the potato announcement.

“We are the second largest (potato-growing state), but Idaho we’re coming for you.”

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