Chinese officials inspect Alaska potatoes for possible import

Posted: Monday, September 18, 2000

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Chinese officials visited Alaska's agricultural areas this fall to decide whether to allow Alaska potatoes to be imported.

The three officials were checking Alaska's claim of growing a clean product.

''If they all agree there is no risk of insects and nematodes, then they will open their doors to us,'' said Jenifer McBeath, a University of Alaska Fairbanks professor of plant science.

Alaska would be the first state in the nation to gain Chinese approval, McBeath said.

Alaska's farmers don't use pesticides because there isn't a need, she said. That's attractive to the Chinese government.

''We have to safeguard our environment and our producers,'' said Zhang Baofeng, deputy director for plant inspection and quarantine division in Beijing. His office oversees pest control along China's borders.

Another visiting official, Liu Shan Bin, is an agronomist in charge of plant inspection and quarantine in Dalian, a large port in northern China.

Ding Yi Hong is the deputy director of entry/exit inspection and quarantine for the Jilin Province, where Alaska seed potatoes would end up.

The three men visited Seward, Anchorage, Palmer, Delta Junction, Valdez and Fairbanks.

The Chinese saw how the potatoes were handled, cleaned and stored. In addition, they were able to see the plants still in the field, she said.

Rob Wells, director of the state's agriculture division, said the three men had never before seen russet potatoes, spuds with a dark, rough skin.

Alaska produces about 20 million pounds of potatoes yearly, with 62 percent grown in the Matanuska Valley, Wells said. The rest are grown in Delta Junction. About 10 percent of the total are seed potatoes.

A drawback for export backers is price -- Alaska farmers have high overhead compared to the massive producers of the Lower 48, McBeath said.

Another downside, Zhang said, is that the potatoes would have to be shipped through Seattle.

China grows a lot of potatoes, Zhang said, but there area problems with disease and pests. That's why Alaska potatoes are so appealing, especially as seed, McBeath said.

Zhang, Liu and Ding will go back to China and report to an evaluation committee, Zhang said. McBeath hopes to have an answer by the end of the year.

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