Impressive display of support showed for P.E.I. potato industry

(Kara Oosterhuis/RealAgriculture)

The P.E.I. potato industry hasn’t had an easy time lately, as the finding of potato wart fungus in two fields in the province halted potato exports to the U.S.

The two positive cases were confirmed in October of 2021.

Ryan Barrett, agronomist with the P.E.I. Potato Board, and farmer at Belmont, P.E.I., provided RealAgriculture with some perspective and the latest on the issue.

“There’s a lot of stress out here right now,” says Barrett. Potato wart is a soil-borne fungus, present in a very small number of fields in P.E.I. that are regulated, tracked, and potatoes aren’t exported from those fields. Those fields are under a rigorous management plan adds Barrett.

“For the last 20 years, we’ve been able to sell potatoes in Canada, the United States, and all around the world, using this management plan with very few, if any, disruptions, and it’s all worked reasonably well,” says Barrett.

About 40 per cent of P.E.I.’s fresh and seed potatoes head to the states every year, says Barrett, which equates to about $2 million per week in lost revenue for the industry.

“That’s really hard on the heads, hard on the people that sell those potatoes to the United States, it’s hard on the trucking, it’s hard on the supply companies that sell tractors, equipment, fertilizer, every part of the industry here is feeling it,” says Barrett.

The province, the public, and the premier of P.E.I. and Ag Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau have really “wrapped their arms around” the potato industry and are incredibly supportive says Barrett, with rallies organized to support the province’s commodity.

As for other repercussions of the U.S.’ ban on P.E.I. potatoes, it’s too early to say if there will be a reduction in acres, Barrett says. “It really does matter where we go here: is there partial access returned in the near future? Is there full access? It’s very hard at this point to say when to expect that,” he says.

About 10 per cent of the crop grown every year is for seed, and at this point seed potatoes can’t be sold. Barrett says that some seed growers have lost half of their revenue, leaving them to reassess for next year.

Hear the full conversation with Barrett and Haney, here in this episode of RealAg Radio.

Related: CFIA completes national potato wart survey ahead of schedule