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US-China trade war targets iconic Idaho potatoes

The Idaho potato is quite iconic. For many Americans, it’s Idaho’s only notable characteristic. Whether or not one relishes Idaho’s reputation as the land of potatoes, the vegetable remains an important pillar of the state economy; a resilient export backed by proven quality and true marketing power.

That reliability may be in question following a suite of tariffs imposed by Mexico in retaliation to president Trump’s tariffs on Mexican steel and aluminium. Among the products targeted, which largely centre on major exports from predominantly Republican states, are potatoes, which were hit with a 20-percent tariff. According to Idaho State Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Chanel Tewalt, those tariffs could put the Idaho potato’s quality and brand strength to the test. “That quality is always there, and that’s why our partners come to us, but there is that cost-benefit of dealing with tariffs,” she said.

Idaho is far and away the largest potato producer in the nation. More than a third of all American potatoes are grown in Idaho, making the product essential to an agricultural industry that accounts for 20 percent of all state sales. Exports are a vital part of that market, with 20 percent of agricultural commodities shipped internationally.

According to, it doesn’t help that the tariffs arrive at a particularly soft time for Idaho agricultural commodities. Tewalt claims that products like potatoes typically perform best when the dollar is weaker, which makes agricultural exports more competitive. The strong dollar and hot national economy have ironically had a chilling effect on agricultural exports, she said.

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