An international ban leaves Island producers in the lurch
The shipment of fresh potatoes from Prince Edward Island to the United States has been suspended after a soil-borne potato fungus was detected on two of the province’s farms in October. The presence of the fungus, known as potato wart, prompted the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to suspend exports to the US in early November to mitigate the spread. On November 21, the Canadian government implemented a formal ban following a warning from the US that they would prohibit potato imports unless Canada did so voluntarily. Currently, fresh potatoes can still move to other Canadian provinces, but the US feels the risk of spread, from infected seed potatoes and soil to American farms, is still too high. Although the Canadian ban may allow for more control over a reversal, officials aren’t confident we’ll see an end to the ban this year.
This is a devastating blow to Island farmers and PEI’s economy. The province—although the country’s smallest—represents one of Canada’s top three potato producers, with the US accounting for more than 90 percent of PEI’s potato exports. And after one of the best potato harvests in generations, PEI farmers are finding themselves with a growing heap of excess potatoes with nowhere to go.
The fungus, known as potato wart, was detected in two Island fields in early October, which brought the export of fresh Island spuds to a standstill soon after. Considered a quarantine pest in Canada, among other countries, potato wart can remain present and inactive in the soil for more than 40 years. Although the warts present no threat to human health or food safety, they are extremely damaging to the industry as the fungus can reduce crop yields and make potatoes unmarketable by spoiling their appearance.
The CFIA closely monitors potato wart and has strong mitigation measures in place to manage the potential spread. These measures were implemented after the first detection of potato wart in PEI in 2000, which prompted a ban in the trade of fresh PEI potatoes between Canada and the US that lasted six months. Since then, mitigation measures have allowed PEI to export hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of spuds off the Island.
PEI has announced a new $4.2-million wage support program, retroactive to December 1, to support Island farmers, exporters, and trucking companies affected by the loss. In the meantime, government officials are working to reinstate international trade so that the Island’s bounty of fresh potatoes don’t go to waste.