Mixed reactions from P.E.I. potato growers as U.S. border reopens to exports

The P.E.I. Potato Board says potato growers on Prince Edward Island can expect high demand for Island spuds now that the U.S. border has been reopened to some stock.

It was announced late Friday afternoon shipments of Island potatoes will resume right away.

Island growers had a meeting with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency on Saturday to ask questions about the process, says Greg Donald, general manager of the board.

“We’re very pleased to be able to deliver P.E.I. potatoes to our customers and there has been strong demand,” said Donald.

With the U.S. threatening to take action, the CFIA halted cross-border shipments of seed and table-stock potatoes in November due to concerns about potato wart. Canadian officials were concerned that an American action would be more difficult to reverse.

‘It’s of course with mixed feelings because we have had 100 per cent confidence in the safety of our potatoes since Day 1,’ says P.E.I. Potato Board general manager Greg Donald. (CBC)

Donald said and he’s hoping table-stock potatoes will be headed off Island for the U.S. early next week.

“It’s of course with mixed feelings because we have had 100 per cent confidence in the safety of our potatoes since Day 1. We felt this never should have happened but certainly … were very pleased to be able to resume shipments.”

Boyd Rose, who runs East Point Potato, feels the same way, especially when he looks at the rules for shipping highlighted by the CFIA.

“We’re excited to get going again,” he said. “At the same time we have mixed reactions to being shut down for over four months, and when we see the requirements to ship next Monday they look very very similar to what we were doing in October and November.”

Boyd Rose is a potato grower and packer. (Boyd Rose/Zoom)

The CFIA said last week the U.S. would require P.E.I. potatoes, as well as the seed potatoes used to produce them, to “originate from fields not known to be infested with potato wart or associated with known infestations.”

Other conditions state that P.E.I. potatoes must be:

  • Washed and sprout-nipped.
  • Graded to meet the U.S. No. 1 standard.
  • Officially inspected by the national plant protection organization of Canada and certified as meeting USDA requirements.

“[We’re] happy everybody put the work in to get the job in to get the work done, but you can’t make up for the lost time,” Rose said.

Growers in P.E.I. have already had to destroy millions of pounds of potatoes since the border was closed to U.S. exports in November — but demand is high. Rose has been getting calls from the U.S. since the announcement was made Friday afternoon, he said.

Canada’s Minister of Agriculture Marie-Claude Bibeau has said shipments of seed potatoes are unlikely to resume until 2023.

Donald would like to see that moved up.

“Seed potatoes are still unable to be exported off of P.E.I. So, we’ll be eager to focus attention on the science and the resumption of exports of our seed potatoes as soon as possible as well,” he said.

Alex Docherty runs Sky View Farms. (Tony Davis/CBC)

Alex Docherty who runs Sky View Farms, is glad for those selling table stock, but he sells seed potatoes and the resumption of selling table stock to the U.S. does nothing for his business, he said.

“We’re still banned from selling seed in our own country along with the United States. So we are sitting on bins of seed that will eventually be fed to cows,” he said.

“We’re out of the game for this year completely and according to the minister we’re out for another year probably.”

Even if the ban on seed potatoes was lifted right away — many of his customers went elsewhere for seed for this year and the farm has already lost out on an entire season, Docherty said.

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