The Prince Edward Island potato industry is seeking answers. Exports of seed potatoes to the U.S. were suspended on November 2, 2021 after the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) identified potato wart on October 1 and 14 in two separate fields of processing potatoes on two separate farms that were already under regulation by CFIA. Exports of all fresh potatoes (tablestock and processing) to the U.S. were suspended on November 21, 2021.
What happened during these three weeks to change the status of PEI exports to the U.S. which were valued at $120 million in 2020? These fields are related to previous potato wart detections, says the CFIA, and have been under surveillance of the Potato Wart Domestic Long Term Management Plan. An important point is that these tubers were destined for the Island’s Cavendish processing plant.
The U.S.-based National Potato Council, supported by 13 signatories, wrote a November 16, 2021 letter to Tom Vilsack, U.S. secretary of agriculture. The difference, for stateside growers, is that these detections are in processing fields compared to discoveries in seed fields a year ago. Although the CFIA found no evidence of further disease from its 2020 investigation, American producers aren’t convinced.
“Though the absence of such evidence appears positive on its face, the lack of clear answers from CFIA does concern our industry,” wrote Kam Quaries, CEO, National Potato Council. “Potato wart is a disease that can lie dormant in the soil for years but if undetected can re-emerge and cause tremendous harm.”
For whatever reason, the National Potato Council is not prepared to wait for further scientific testing of the 2021 samples.
For its part, the Canadian Potato Council has responded in the strongest terms.
“The above actions will have a devastating impact on the financial and economic situation of PEI potato growers through the total loss of the U.S. market and restrictions on the domestic market. This is a particularly difficult hardship given the record yields and production of the 2021 PEI potato crop.
“Most of the calls I’m receiving are from other provinces,” says David Jones, Canadian Potato Council. “Our priority is to get the U.S. tablestock market reopened as an outlet for PEI potatoes to release price pressure on the Canadian market. This is not just a provincial issue but a national issue for potato growers.”
Next steps are to convince the CFIA to sit down with counterparts from the USDA as quickly as possible to discuss what mitigation measures would be acceptable to manage any risk to resumed exports. No movement is expected until after the American Thanksgiving holiday, November 25.
Source: Canadian Potato Council November 23, 2021 statement, National Potato Council November 16, 2021 letter, Canadian Food Inspection Agency November 2 and 21, 2021 news releases