After potato wart was found in P.E.I. this year, all potato exports from the Island to the U.S. have been temporarily halted by the Canadian government.
After a push from the American government, the Canadian government has made the decision to halt all exports of potatoes from Prince Edward Island to the United States. The decision has the potato industry in P.E.I. stunned as the U.S. represents a $120 million annual market.
“Since the discovery of potato wart in P.E.I. in 2000, there has not been a single incidence of potato wart in any markets, including the U.S. and the rest of Canada, attributable to Prince Edward Island potatoes. We have faith in this plan, and so should our government who developed it,” the P.E.I. Potato Board says in a news release.
Potato wart was discovered in P.E.I. on Oct. 1 and 14 on two different P.E.I. potato farms by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) Charlottetown Laboratory. The CFIA immediately launched an investigation and implemented strict regulatory measures to prevent potential spread. On Nov. 2 seed potato exports from P.E.I. to the U.S. were suspended.
Potato wart is a fungus which has been present in some continents for over a century and was first detected in P.E.I. in 2000. Since then, it has been detected in 33 fields there. The Potato Wart Domestic Long-Term Management Plan was established in 2021 which developed an action plan for how to handle discoveries moving forward. Potato wart poses no threat to human health or food safety but is known to decrease yield on farms. It’s spread through the movement of affected potatoes, soil, and farm equipment.
The National Potato Council (NPC) and 13 state potato organizations sent a letter on Nov. 16 to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack asking for the U.S. government to suspend all imports of P.E.I. potatoes, not just seed potatoes. In the letter the NPC argued the Canadian government’s action doesn’t appear to comprehensively address the situation as potato wart was found in non-seed potato fields.
“Based on the communications that our growers, dealers, exporters and staff have had with numerous contacts in the United States, it is apparent that these calls for border restrictions are not representative of the majority of American industry stakeholders and buyers who need and want P.E.I. potatoes this marketing season,” the P.E.I. Potato Board says.
In a press conference on Nov. 22, Canadian Minister of Agriculture and Agri-food Marie-Claude Bibeau said the U.S. had expressed serious concerns over the recent detections of potato wart in P.E.I. The U.S. government said it would impose a federal order banning imports of all fresh P.E.I. potatoes if Canada didn’t act first to suspend trade.
On Nov. 21, the Canadian government announced a Ministerial Order restricting the movement of seed potatoes from P.E.I. and introducing new risk mitigation measures for P.E.I. table stock and processing potatoes. The temporary suspension of fresh potatoes exports from P.E.I. to the U.S. was also announced, meaning only processed potato products are allowed to be exported to the U.S. from P.E.I.
All used farm machinery originating from P.E.I. and shipped to the U.S. must also be cleaned free of soil and disinfected prior to entering the U.S. This new U.S. import requirement should be considered permanent until further notice, the CFIA notes.
The P.E.I. Potato Board says this is solely a politically based trade disruption which will limit trade in a year when potatoes are already in short supply across North America and globally. Bibeau says the Canadian government believes in a science-based approach to resolve this trade issue.
The U.S. government has committed to ongoing technical discussions with the CFIA and details from the ongoing 2021 potato wart investigations will be shared, the CFIA says. The actions taken for this incident have been the strongest taken against potato wart by Canada to date.
“If this suspension of exports is not reversed, it will necessitate the destruction of hundreds of millions of pounds of high-quality fresh potatoes, as potatoes are a perishable crop that cannot be stored indefinitely until market access is reopened,” the P.E.I. Potato Board says. The industry association is calling for an immediate reversal of government-imposed restrictions on the movement of fresh potatoes.
Bibeau says the government is working on a plan to support potato growers impacted by the temporary market suspension. It will include business risk management program and collaborative efforts to determine how to reroute existing stock in storage in P.E.I. The federal government also plans to work with the provincial government to determine what additional supports may be required to support impacted producers. A Potato Working Group with provincial and industry stakeholders has also been created.
In 2020, potato wart was found in two fields on a farm in P.E.I. The CFIA placed the fields under quarantine and halted all seed potato exports to the U.S. which was later lifted after no other discoveries. At the time, the NPC said there had been no seed from the infected area shipped to the U.S. in the past four years.
In April 2021, 14 potato industry group in the U.S. including the NPA wrote a letter to the USDA stating their concern about how Canada would handle future disease threats. The group said they wanted to know how the CFIA would use the potato wart incident to modify or enhance the annual reporting required for P.E.I. They also asked if the CFIA was going to do surveys of potatoes from P.E.I. seed as no domestic exports were halted.