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Mexico imposes tariffs on potatoes, cheese. Here's how these Idaho ag groups respond.

The Idaho Potato Commission displays its traveling, six-ton tuber replica in front of the Idaho Capitol in Boise in 2012.
The Idaho Potato Commission displays its traveling, six-ton tuber replica in front of the Idaho Capitol in Boise in 2012. AP Photo

In response to President Donald Trump's tariffs on steel and aluminum from Mexico, the nation has slapped tariffs on several types of American produce, including a 20 percent tax on potatoes and a 20-25 percent tax on certain dairy products.

But the head of the Idaho Potato Commission and the spokeswoman for a new Meridian-based dairy-marketing group say they aren't worried.

"We are going to weather this storm," said Frank Muir, president and CEO of the Idaho Potato Commission.

Mexico is a major market for Idaho's potatoes, specifically frozen ones. In 2016, a Mexican judge ruled that fresh American potatoes were allowed only 16 kilometers into the country's border, citing concerns over pests and public health, Reuters wrote. Because of that, frozen potatoes make up a much greater number of what Mexico receives, according to Muir.

Also, other countries around the world will keep buying Idaho's frozen potatoes, Muir said. Frozen potatoes can be stored for as long as needed, he said, which means that Idaho's potato processors are unlikely to take much of a hit.

"We're reaching capacity for frozen potatoes," Muir told the Idaho Statesman on Friday, . “In the short term, if these frozen products aren’t able to go to Mexico, they will be redirected elsewhere.”

Idaho is the top producer of potatoes in the United States, accounting for nearly 30 percent of all production.

“We’re reading this as it's not going to have a major impact on potato farmers or potato processors in Idaho," Muir said.

“I guess the most important point I want to make, when countries shove each other in the penalty box, the consumers suffer," Muir said. "These things happen, and we adjust accordingly."

Cindy Miller, vice president of communication for Dairy West, says the Mexican tariffs are not good for Idaho dairy farmers, but shouldn't be too hard on them. Dairy West is a new nonprofit marketing organization that serves Idaho dairy farmers and plans to expand its services to other states.

Idaho is the nation's third-largest producer of cheese, according to Idaho Preferred. Miller thinks the quality of Idaho's products will keep Mexican customers buying them.

Because of the tough safety standards the United States puts on its dairy products, purchasers know they are getting safe food, Miller said.

"When it comes to dairy, the U.S. has some of the safest quality supply … those partners know. ... We feel that there's been good relationships established, and we hope they continue,” Miller said.

Some dairy representatives don't share Miller's optimism.

"Of course it's troubling," said Case Van Steyn, a Galt, California, dairy producer and vice chairman of Dairy Farmers of America. "Tariffs on our product ... is going to hurt local dairymen."

Low prices have been affecting dairy farmers significantly for the past three years, to the point that dairy farming in California has turned unprofitable, said Annie AcMoody, director of economic analysis at the Western United Dairymen, a trade association.

"This is something we didn't need to see," AcMoody said.



The Sacramento Bee contributed.
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