The Prince Edward Island Potato Board has expressed its shock over the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s (CFIA) decision to suspend all seed potato exports out of P.E.I., and all potato movement from P.E.I. to the U.S., following a ministerial order announced Monday, November 22.
Potato wart is a soil-borne fungus that can lay dormant for decades. First confirmed in P.E.I. in 2000, the province has an ongoing surveillance and management protocol for the tuber-disfiguring disease.
The wart poses no risk to human or animal health, but it does downgrade the potato crop and reduces marketability.
In P.E.I., any field under surveillance for the fungus can’t be used for seed potato production, explains Ryan Barrett, research and agronomy specialist with the P.E.I. Potato Board. The risk to any seed potatoes moved out of the province, therefore, is very low.
What’s more, table and fresh-for-processing potatoes carry a negligible risk for spread due to testing, cleaning, and the application of a germination inhibitor. The fields in question, he says, were already part of the surveillance program, and all potatoes were destined to be processed.
In short, Barrett says the science doesn’t support a full-stop to movement of potatoes out of the province.
The United States market represents a value of approximately $120 million annually to the Prince Edward Island potato industry. P.E.I. also sells seed potatoes to over 20 countries. This suspension of potato movement is a serious blow to the industry.
Barrett says that potatoes are vitally important to the P.E.I. economy. Agriculture is a major economic driver and the potato industry is the largest portion of the agriculture industry. He’s hopeful a resolution on the issue can be found quickly, as potatoes require sophisticated storage that is most effective for up to a year. The main seed potato sale season is in February and March.