“This is a devastating week for potato farmers in Prince Edward Island. The worst-case scenario for any farmer is happening across the province – the destruction of safe and healthy food,” says the Prince Edward Island Potato Board in a press release.
According to information included in the release, the closure of the U.S. border to PEI tablestock potatoes and restriction of movement of all seed potato by the Canadian Minister of Agriculture has left PEI growers with more than 300 million pounds of potatoes with nowhere to go, and farmers with no other options.
“Over the last three months, our industry has worked tirelessly to move as much food as possible to new markets and those who need it including food banks and shelters across the country,” the Board says.
“While we appreciate the efforts of everyone working to get the border open, 12 weeks ago we warned this was coming, and now it is here. It is a gut wrenching, traumatic experience for any farmer, and made worse knowing it was completely avoidable.
“Unfortunately, this does not mark the end of the turmoil. Our industry is just weeks away from planting for next season and without a U.S. market that could mean tougher decisions and times ahead for Island potato farmers and the whole industry across the country.”
Stories from the field
Colton Griffin, the 28-year-old, third generation farmer who has been farming for 10 years at W.P. Griffin farm, said the situation makes him wonder about the future.
“I never really turned back. You have to really enjoy what you do and I do enjoy farming. But now this whole situation makes me wonder if there were easier things that could have happened in my life. There are a lot of things you can’t control like what we are experiencing right now and it definitely makes me wonder if it’s all worth it.”
The W.P. Griffin farm normally employs some 60 staff working two shifts a day for six days a week. Now, they are down to 25-30 staff, including office staff, and only one shift a day for a couple of days per week.
Griffin noted that many of the staff have worked on the farm since before he was born.
They have already been destroying potatoes – about half of the crop.
Robin Stejin, a 24-year-old, ninth generation potato farmer who has worked at the Stejin Potato farm since 2002, said he is now concerned about his future.
“It’s probably one of the things that’s on my mind pretty much all the time. I’m just wondering if this is what I really want to go into. What if this type of situation is going to happen every 20 years? That doesn’t work.”
As a result, the Stejin Potato farm will have to destroy at least three million pounds of potatoes. The potato destruction is planned for this Saturday, Feb. 12.
Andrew Smith, the 43-year-old, fifth generation farmer who works at Smith Farms Ltd, said he never dreamed that he would be looking at another border closure over this issue given the technology and science we have today.
“I was just shocked and amazed when I heard the news. Just couldn’t believe it.”
Chipstock potatoes account for approximately 30 per cent of his business in the U.S. – at the heart of their business. And now they are at risk of losing most of their larger customers.
Smith Farms Ltd. will start destroying potatoes next week.
Source: Prince Edward Island Potato Board
For more information on the PEI Potato situation visit: https://isupportpeipotatoes.ca/news-and-media-resources/
Related: Funding for Farmers is Welcomed, but Will Not Cover Losses…
Cover photo: Destruction of PEI potatoes with a snow blower. Courtesy Dawn Binns