News December 2021, North America, Organizations in the News, Trade/Markets/Prices

Chairman of the PEI Potato Board on potato trade ban: ‘This is heartbreaking…’

A convoy of almost 40 trucks, including 16 potato trucks carrying half a million pounds of fresh potatoes, made its way through the streets of Prince Edward Island’s Charlottetown yesterday along with series of heartfelt messages directed at the federal government.

“The last four weeks have been horrible for Island farmers, but we’re not giving up,” said John Visser, Prince Edward Island farmer and Chairman of the PEI Potato Board in a press release. “We are here to show the federal government, who walked us into this situation, how we’re feeling and the impact their ineffective action is having.”

The Board says in its release: “On November 22, despite the fact that no potato wart has ever left the Island in the 20 years it’s been managed, and finding it in an area of far less than one acre in total, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency placed a ban on the export of fresh PEI Potatoes to the United States with the approval of Canadian Minister of Agriculture, Marie-Claude Bibeau.”

“The Federal Minister of Agriculture is responsible for the CFIA, which created this situation,” said Visser. “The Minister put the ban in place but has not been able to explain why the same scientifically accepted management practices, which are good enough to allow United States potatoes into Canada, are not good enough to allow PEI potatoes into the United States. This is not some academic discussion; this is the lives and livelihoods of thousands of Islanders at stake.”  

The CFIA has maintained the position that the ban was needed so that the United States would not impose its own ban, which could be harder to remove.  Meanwhile, the CFIA has deemed Prince Edward Island potatoes safe to continue shipping across Canada and to several export markets. 

Additionally, the CFIA continues to allow the shipment of potatoes in Canada from Idaho and 15 other states with pests that are quarantined or regulated.  In those instances, the CFIA accepts washing and sprout inhibition as a way of controlling the risk for U.S. potatoes coming north – the exact same process used by Prince Edward Island to manage potato wart.

Close to 40 trucks carrying some 500,000 lbs of fresh potatoes parade on the streets of Charlottetown, PEI, Dec. 20, 2021, in support of Island potato farmers, with messages like “Farming is hard enough. Why has our federal government put us here?” (CNW Group/Prince Edward Island Potato Board)
Close to 40 trucks carrying some 500,000 lbs of fresh potatoes
parade on the streets of Charlottetown, PEI, Dec. 20, 2021
(CNW Group/Prince Edward Island Potato Board)

The convoy of potato trucks was also a statement by farmers of what is to come. Prince Edward Island farmers are poised to be forced to destroy upwards of 500 million pounds of healthy, safe potatoes because of the U.S. trade ban.

“Because of how this has been mishandled, we are now looking at one of the worst things that can happen to a farmer – destroying the very product they put their whole year’s work into,” said Visser.

“We will work with local and national food banks and as many people as possible to make sure those who are hungry get food, but it is not possible to move this volume of fresh potatoes before it’s too late.” 

“At a certain point, the surplus of potatoes is simply too much to sell in other markets or to hold on to and ship if and when the border reopens,” said Greg Donald, general manager of the P.E.I. Potato Board.

“Plus flooding the Canadian market with too many potatoes puts immense downward pressure on pricing for our fellow potato farmers across Canada. Our own farms are receiving much less for their potatoes since the ban and we do not want one of the unintended outcomes of this situation to be damaging other farm families across Canada.”

There are also environmental concerns with handling this volume of a perishable product. To manage this concern farmers will need to dispose of potatoes during the winter months, to allow the potatoes to freeze and break down before the warmer weather in the spring.

“This is heartbreaking, and completely avoidable. Our potatoes are safe and healthy to be shipped across Canada, yet the nine million Americans we feed every year cannot have access to them,” said John Visser. “Every farmer on this Island plants in the spring and nurtures and cultivates the crop in order to feed people. That’s what we do.  And to know that our own federal government put us in this position and continues to do very little to help us is beyond frustrating.” 

“We appreciate the assistance announcement [from the federal government] as a start, however, what’s going to make the most difference to us is a resolution to the border issue, so we can resume trade as soon as possible,” John Visser, Chairman of the PEI Potato Board.

Source: P.E.I. Potato Board
Cover photo: Potato trucks carrying half a million pounds of fresh potatoes, made its way through the streets of Prince Edward Island’s Charlottetown | CNW Group/Prince Edward Island Potato Board
Related: Potato convoy sends message to Ottawa that border needs to reopen
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