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Potato wart report: PEI Potato Board calls on govt to listen to international panel of experts convened by CFIA

The PEI potato industry welcomed the final report of an International Advisory Panel (IAP) on Potato Wart that was presented to industry and government on January 16, 2023. The panel was convened by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in 2022, as follow-up to potato wart detections in PEI in October 2021.

According to a PEI Potato Board press release, the panel was comprised of world-renowned experts in potato wart from Germany, the Netherlands, Northern Ireland and New Zealand. The Panel’s main purpose was to obtain the advice of leading experts on testing diagnostics, surveillance and management of potato wart. The experts also examined whether existing wart management activities meet International Standards to certify potatoes for international export.

Important conclusion

The PEI potato industry is pleased with the thoroughness of the panel report and the Panel’s key findings that “given the limited presence of the pathogen, the IAP considers most parts of PEI outside the Regulated Fields as a PFA (pest free area) for S. Endobioticum [fungus causing potato wart].”

This conclusion is important because the Ministerial Order established by the federal government in November 2021 said that the entire province of PEI was “infested” with potato wart, which this report now demonstrates was an over-reaching, misleading label that offended PEI farmers and was accompanied by severe restrictions.

The IAP report also confirmed that the general and specific surveillance activities on PEI since 2000, meet international standards to support this pest free recognition. Washing of potatoes and application of a sprout inhibition product were also recognized as appropriate risk mitigation measures for the movement of fresh potatoes from an area where a soil borne pest, such as potato wart or PCN, has been found.

Ottawa must ‘lift unnecessary restrictions’

A PEI farmer destroy his potato crop by putting it through a snowblower.
An estimated 250 million pounds of PEI potatoes were destroyed in 2022
due to the Federal government’s restrictions. (CNW Group/PEI Potato Board)

“The PEI Potato Industry believes that Ottawa must accept the findings of the expert report it commissioned and start work immediately, in collaboration with the province and industry, to lift unnecessary restrictions on farms with no connection to potato wart and implement science based recommendations to contain and eventually eradicate the pest,” says John Visser, Chair of the PEI Potato Board.

“PEI potato growers should not have to spend another season dealing with unnecessary restrictions due to government over-reach.”

The International Panel spent a week on PEI in August 2022 attending in-person information sessions, making site visits to seed, table and processing potato farms, and visiting the CFIA testing lab and local processing facilities. Panelists observed first-hand the CFIA soil sampling operations and cleaning and disinfection practices when equipment moves from regulated fields.

The meeting provided the experts with a thorough look at the management of PEI fields under the Potato Wart Long Term Management Plan as well as tuber surveillance programs. After the visit, numerous follow-up virtual calls were held this past fall for clarification of Island practices and policies. The final report provides recommendations on the use of international standards to maintain the pest-free status, and recommendations to improve the management of regulated fields and outlined areas for future research.

Low level of potato wart

The Panel’s report concluded that although there is a low level of potato wart infested fields on PEI (less than 0.6% of the potato land over the 22 years since the first detection), PEI may continue to be described as a location where the pest, Synchitrium endobiotiucm, is “Present, not widely distributed, and under official control” as per International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures 8 (Determination of Pest Status in an area).

Resistant potato varieties play a large part in the control and management of potato wart in areas around the world and they will have a larger role in PEI in the future. Research is underway in cooperation with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada to identify genetic markers for resistance and conduct field screening at plots in Newfoundland and Labrador (which has been quarantined due to the presence of potato wart since 1909) to help increase the pool of resistant varieties available to Island potato growers.

The PEI provincial government has also already taken an important step in adopting one of the Panel’s recommendations to ensure that the limited number of infected acres be removed from potato production.

The plan forward for PEI farmers

The industry is eager to get to work with federal officials to develop the plan forward for PEI farmers. The industry calls on the government to act in an efficient, timely and transparent manner for the good of PEI and the good of the Canadian agricultural sector.

“Prince Edward Island Potatoes are world renowned for the great taste and quality that comes from growing in the unique red soil of PEI,” the PEI Potato Board says.

“The Prince Edward Island Potato Board represents the 200+ family farms that specialize in growing top quality potatoes for fresh, seed and processing markets in Canada and around the world. Our farms are dedicated to supporting the highest performance of an economically and environmentally sustainable potato industry.”

Source: PEI Potato Board
Cover photo: A PEI farmer stands in front of his potato truck with a message for the Federal government, during a protest in Charlottetown in 2022. (Credit CNW Group/PEI Potato Board)

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