PEI potato exports to US resuming effective immediately

Exports of Prince Edward Island table-stock potatoes to the United States are resuming effective immediately.

The United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) amended its requirements for the importation of table potatoes from PEI on Friday.

The news comes following an announcement from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency last week indicating the agency would be lifting its ban on exporting PEI table or eating potatoes — but not seed or processing potatoes — with conditions.

Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau spoke with Mainstreet host Matt Rainnie Friday afternoon shortly after the news broke.

“It’s good news for our table stock potatoes to see the market open for the mainland in the US,” Bibeau said.

“The potato industry is so important, it’s part of your identity … when we can see [potatoes] leaving the Island and going to the US it’s going to be great.”

Island farmers have said an estimated 300 million pounds of potatoes would have to be destroyed this winter.

Friday’s announcement also means bags shipped to Puerto Rico will no longer have to be labeled, Bibeau said, and shipments are no longer limited in size.

Alex Docherty of Skye View Farms and his father watch as a truck load of potatoes is dumped in a field to be destroyed. Island farmers have said they expected to destroy an estimated 300 million pounds of potatoes this winter. (Submitted by Alex Docherty )

“We can now ship these potatoes in totes, or in bulk as well so it’s good news for … farmers on the Island.”

Seed potato exports still aren’t expected to resume until 2023. Bibeau said the investigation is ongoing and Ottawa will keep working with seed producers to see how they can be supported in the interim.

“It’s extremely hard for seed growers, but lets take the good news for table stock growers today,” she said.

“Seed potatoes are meant to be planted, so the risk for them is greater — so this is why we need to complete the investigation. We will keep working closely, see how we can support them in terms of the loss of last year and also see what opportunities they can have and how we can support you … we will work together to find a clear path forward.”

Conditions for import

The CFIA said last week the US would require PEI potatoes, as well as the seed potatoes used to produce them, “originate from fields not known to be infested with potato wart or associated with known infestations.”

‘It’s extremely hard for seed growers, but lets take the good news for table stock growers today,’ says Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Marie-Claude Bibeau. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Other conditions state that PEI potatoes must be:

  • Washed and sprout-nipped.
  • Graded to meet the US No. 1 standard.
  • Officially inspected by the national plant protection organization of Canada and certified as meeting USDA requirements.

Shipments of fresh potatoes to the United States and its territory of Puerto Rico, and eventually the rest of Canada, were suspended following the discovery of potato wart in two Island fields in October.

The CFIA halted shipments of seed and table-stock potatoes to the US in November, prompted by a US threat that it would act if Canada did not. Canadian officials were concerned that an American action would be more difficult to reverse.

Wart is a fungus that disfigures potatoes so that they are unmarketable and reduces yields, but poses no health risk to humans.

We’ll believe it all and see it all when the loads start going south and they get to the border, to the destination where people are looking for them.—John Visser

John Visser, chair of the PEI Potato Board, said farmers are relieved they can resume shipping to the US He said orders are already starting to come in.

“I guess this just goes to show that the science did work all along,” he said.

“Hopefully there’ll be no surprises. We’ll believe it all and see it all when the loads start going south and they get to the border, to the destination where people are looking for them.”

The PEI Potato Board estimates trade with the US would have been $120 million this season.

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