‘It’s grim’: P.E.I. seed potato growers worry restrictions may shutter markets for good
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Terry Curley believes it’s gone for good.
The co-owner of Monaghan Farms in Summerfield had constructed a profitable seed potato operation, rising as many as 60 per cent of the varieties utilized in Canada by the Frito-Lay chip firm.
Nevertheless, he worries the province’s seed potato sector might be a casualty of the 2021 bruising stoppage of potato shipments to the U.S., following a handful of detections of potato wart.
“The underside line is seed gross sales have been diminished considerably off of P.E.I. And my opinion is that is not coming again,” Curley stated.
A ministerial order barring the export of recent potatoes to the U.S. was lifted simply over one 12 months in the past. However restrictions on seed potatoes, grown to be planted for future crops, stay in place, successfully barring shipments off-Island.
There is no such thing as a clear finish date in sight for the lifting of those federal restrictions.
Right this moment, Curley grows half the quantity of seed potatoes that he would have two years in the past. Most are destined for P.E.I. markets.
“We had been poised to do considerably extra into different Canadian provinces. We had been increase the seed for that market,” Curley stated. “That is all useless now. They simply stated, ‘We do not need it at any value.’”
“We had been poised to do considerably extra into different Canadian provinces. We had been increase the seed for that market. That is all useless now. They simply stated, ‘We do not need it at any value.’” – Terry Curley
‘It is grim’
Different farmers are questioning whether or not there’s a future in producing seed in P.E.I.
Previous to 2021, Barry Cudmore developed a specialised market, rising seed potatoes for backyard centres all through the Maritimes. 1000’s of market gardeners would have purchased potatoes he grew from his farm in Brackley Seashore.
Cudmore wonders whether or not he ought to swap to crops with extra secure markets.
“I am 72 years previous. How for much longer do I wish to proceed rising potatoes anyway?” he stated. “It is grim. I really feel for gardeners who stay up for getting potatoes from our farm.”
Wayne Townshend, who farms potatoes in Fortune Bridge, doesn’t ship seed potatoes outdoors of P.E.I. However he stated off-Island seed potato suppliers have begun giving P.E.I. a large berth.
“Plenty of our earlier technology seed, that we introduced in to develop seed for the native growers, a number of it got here out of Alberta. And Alberta’s actual intelligent, they don’t seem to be going to get caught within the CFIA shit-show,” Townshend stated, referring to the federal regulator that oversees the seed potato export restrictions.
Curley confirmed he has heard of Alberta producers who’ve stopped transport seed to P.E.I., out of concern of a Canadian Meals Inspection Company (CFIA) investigation of their very own farms in Alberta.
“The kindest approach I may say of the mishandling of the entire file is that they acquired everyone spooked to purchase P.E.I. potatoes,” Curley stated, referring to the CFIA.
SaltWire tried to achieve the Potato Growers of Alberta however didn’t obtain a response.
Small acreage, large affect
Seed potatoes account for roughly 10 per cent of potatoes grown in P.E.I. Of these, solely 20 per cent would have been destined for off-Island markets. Exports of P.E.I. seed to the U.S. had been price about $3 million, in keeping with the CFIA.
Greg Donald, basic supervisor of the P.E.I. Potato Board, says the seed potato sector can yield good returns for farmers. However rising seed is tough, requiring totally different instruments and storage than processing or desk inventory.
“You must babysit them fairly properly,” he stated. “They’re actually the inspiration of our whole trade. And, so, if these small numbers are weak, then it weakens our whole trade.”
The restrictions on seed potato exports come at a time of scarcity attributable to a weak crop in New Brunswick, Maine and elsewhere.
“We’ve got good seed and we won’t promote it,” Donald stated.
The CFIA says seed potatoes carry the next danger of spreading potato wart as a result of they’re planted in soil.
In current many years, the one jurisdictions in North America the place potato wart has been found are Newfoundland and Labrador and P.E.I. The soil-borne pest poses no hurt to people however produces a cauliflower-like development that may make potatoes unmarketable.
CFIA is continuous to analyze the diploma of unfold of potato wart following the preliminary finds in October 2021.
In late 2022, a panel of worldwide specialists discovered most potato fields within the province carry a “low danger” of unfold of potato wart. The panel really helpful establishing a management zone over two clusters of fields the place the pathogen has been detected not too long ago, permitting commerce to renew elsewhere on the Island.
In an e-mail, a consultant of CFIA acknowledged the panel had really helpful many of the province be thought-about a “pest-free space,” however didn’t set a timeline for the resumption of the seed potatoes commerce.
The e-mail stated this is able to require measures accepted by “potential importers, together with different Canadian provinces receiving crops from P.E.I., and our worldwide buying and selling companions, together with america.”
“The CFIA should be assured within the standards to determine and keep PFAs earlier than proposing PFAs to home and worldwide buying and selling companions,” the e-mail added.
Donald believes the institution of pest-free areas may assist restore the belief that present potato wart administration efforts have efficiently contained the pest.
“It could possibly’t occur fast sufficient, however we’re dedicated to creating certain it is completed in a approach that our clients are proud of as properly,” he stated.
Stu Neatby is a political reporter with SaltWire in Prince Edward Island. He may be reached by e-mail at [email protected] and adopted on Twitter @stu_neatby.