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U.S. reopens to PEI potatoes

potato warts

Potatoes from Prince Edward Island (PEI) have come back to the United States as of Monday, April 4, following an amended order from USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) issued on April 1.

“Tomorrow morning a large shipment of PEI Potatoes (11,000 x 5 lb bags) will be sailing out of Halifax to Puerto Rico,” the Prince Edward Island potato Facebook page announced on April 3.

Potato imports from the Canadian Maritime province had been stopped to prevent the spread of Synchytrium endobioticum, better known as potato wart, into this country.

PEI potato imports are still subject to a number of restrictions. Potatoes must not originate from any fields restricted by the Canadian Food Inspection Service (CFIA). They must fit the requirements of the U.S. No. 1 grade standard.

They must be free of soil upon inspection at port of entry and must have been washed with a forced stream of water or some similar cleansing method. Potatoes must also have traceability from production site to packing and export.

A load of potatoes destined for food banks has also been sent to Puerto Rico, a leading market for PEI.

“With funding from the provincial government, and the help of Island growers, we are sending the shipment as a donation to food banks in the US territory, as a thank you for their support of PEI Potatoes during the recent export ban. Thank you, Puerto Rico.”

Comments on the PEI potato Facebook page reflected relief, although with some dissatisfaction with the handling of the crisis.

“I know you have to thank [Canadian federal minister of agriculture and agri-food Marie-Claude] Bibeau for PR sake with the Feds, but she did PEI Potatoes no favours from Day 1 with her comments,” wrote one Alan Petrie on the Facebook page. “Her MP [members of Parliament] colleagues from PEI were just as useless. Great to see the market open again. But the season is nearly over and a years markets that took a lot of work to establish are lost! In reality the wart issue masked a trade dispute that the Minister fell for.”

PEI potato grower Chad Robertson has said that the U.S. National Potato Council is aggressively trying to keep P.E.I. potatoes out. “They’d love nothing more than to take up our market share if they could in the U.S. by planting more potatoes,” he told Canada’s CBC News.

“P.E.I. remains an important trading partner and industry members on both sides of the border are hoping that safe trade can resume as quickly as possible,” replied the National Potato Council’s Kam Quarles in an email to CBC News.

The amendment order came just in time for PEI growers to make planting decisions, but there is one important caveat: “Seed potatoes for planting are prohibited entry into the United States,” said the APHIS order.

Bibeau had prepared the ground for this announcement, telling PEI growers on March 26 that the seed potato industry won’t reopen before next year.

“Obviously the conversations with the seed potato growers are more difficult, because the market will not open this year, and probably not next year as well, because we have to do the full investigation and we have to strengthen the management plan as well,” said Bibeau.

But Bibeau did not give any specifics about how the management plan would have to change.


Richard Smoley, contributing editor for Blue Book Services, Inc., has more than 40 years of experience in magazine writing and editing, and is the former managing editor of California Farmer magazine. A graduate of Harvard and Oxford universities, he has published 12 books.