USDA Taking Comments on Termination of Washington State Potato Marketing Order

Published online: Nov 22, 2021 Articles Tom Karst
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Source: The Packer

Through early November, the USDA was taking comments on a proposed rule that would terminate the marketing order for Washington State potatoes.

Published Nov. 6, the proposed rule puts in a place an early recommendation from the industry.

The marketing order is administered by the Washington Potato Committee, which unanimously recommended its termination at a June 11 meeting last year.

The recommendation, according to proposed rule, is based on the committee’s determination that the marketing order is no longer an effective tool for the Washington potato industry and that termination would best serve the current needs of the industry by eliminating the cost associated with its operation.

There are about 26 handlers of Washington potatoes and about 250 potato producers in the production area subject to regulation by the order.

According to USDA Market News, the average shipping point price for fresh Washington potatoes during the 2019 season was $15.79 per cwt. The committee reported that 2019-20 marketing year fresh potato shipments were 9.69 million cwt., creating total grower receipts of $152.9 million.

Comments were due on the proposed rule by Nov. 8.

Background

The marketing order has been in effect since 1949 and has provided the potato industry in Washington with authority for a grade, size, quality, maturity, pack and container regulations, as well as authority for mandatory product inspection.

Handling regulations requiring potatoes to be inspected and meet mandatory minimum grade, size, maturity, quality, pack and container requirements were in effect for all types of potatoes until 2010. USDA temporarily suspended handling regulations for russet-type potatoes for one year, effective July 24, 2010, and subsequently extended that suspension indefinitely effective July 1, 2011. 

Furthermore, USDA temporarily suspended handling regulations for yellow-fleshed and white-type potatoes effective October 24, 2013, also extending that suspension indefinitely effective July 1, 2014. 
Lastly, the USDA indefinitely suspended handling regulations for all red types of potatoes effective February 15, 2014. The cumulative effect of these suspensions was the total suspension of handling regulations for all fresh potatoes under the order after July 1, 2014. All suspensions listed above were conducted upon the recommendation of the committee.

Following these regulatory suspensions, the committee continued to levy assessments in order to maintain its functionality. The committee felt that it should continue to fund its full operational capability in order to collect handler reports, track industry data, and preserve the authority to regulate handling, should that become relevant to the industry again sometime in the future.

The committee met on Jan. 22 and June 11 of last year to discuss the current marketing environment of the Washington potato industry and the status of the order. The committee determined that the suspension of the order’s handling regulations have not negatively impacted the industry and that there is no longer a need for the order. In addition, the committee concluded that data collection and reporting functions of the order are duplicative of the services provided to the industry by the Washington State Potato Commission and that termination of the order would not materially impact the collection and dissemination of essential industry data.

At the meeting held via conference call on June 11 last year, the committee unanimously voted in favor of recommending that USDA to terminate the order. In addition, the committee recommended the order’s reporting and assessment requirements — the only regulatory activities still in effect — be suspended while USDA processes termination of the order. 

The recommendation to suspend all remaining order activities is a separate regulatory action from this rule. A proposed rule to suspend the order’s reporting and assessment requirements was published in the Federal Register on Oct. 13 of last year.