PEI

First truckloads of P.E.I. potatoes arrive in American markets

P.E.I. potatoes are again rolling down the highway to the United States, after the border was reopened to the imported spuds late last week following a near four-month ban. The Potato Board says American customers seem eager to have Island potatoes back and that orders are strong.

U.S. buyer, Potato Board expect numbers to return to pre-closure levels by next week

Large totes of potatoes are loaded on a truck Monday to be shipped by Red Isle Produce to a customer in the Boston area, one of the first shipments to leave the Island after the border reopened. (Kirk Pennell/CBC)

P.E.I. potatoes are once again rolling down the highway to the United States, with the first truckloads arriving in the Boston area Tuesday morning.

Exporters began loading their trucks on Monday, three days after the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the potatoes would be permitted south of the border and four months after the ban was first imposed by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).

The P.E.I. Potato Board, which tracks trucks headed to the U.S., reported eight trucks heading south on Monday, nine on Tuesday and 17 on Wednesday.

"We're pleased, first of all, to actually have trucks going across the border," the board's general manager, Greg Donald, said.

"Demand is strong. They need our potatoes."

Donald said he's been hearing that pre-departure inspections by the CFIA are going well and that trucks are crossing easily at the U.S. border, with no delays.

"Actually, it's been very quiet, no issues, and that says that everything is in order the way it needs to be," he said.

"I know CFIA have made sure that they've had the right resources on P.E.I. to look after things at the shipping point, and according to the shippers and the truck drivers that have been going across border, everything's been done extremely well."

Greg Donald, general manager of the P.E.I. Potato Board, says he's been hearing that pre-departure inspections by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency are going well and that trucks are crossing easily at the U.S. border, with no delays. (Submitted by Greg Donald)

Donald said the number of trucks is currently less than half of what the board was seeing last fall, but he expects that to ramp up quickly.

"The border just opened on Friday, and so it takes a little bit of time for our customers to switch, or place orders, and get things organized," he said.

"I would say by next week, I'm pretty optimistic that we're going to be hitting those numbers."

Some of the feedback we're getting is they can't wait to get our potatoes​—Greg Donald, P.E.I. Potato Board general manager 

Donald said there are some challenges around trucking, but prices in the U.S. are strong and the demand for P.E.I. potatoes is high.

"Prices have actually been stronger, quite a bit stronger south of the border as compared to Canada," he said. "There's always a worry when you're out of the marketplace, you lose business, are you going to be able to get it back? Some of the feedback we're getting is they can't wait to get our potatoes."

A potato truck is loaded at Victoria Potato Farm in Victoria by the Sea, P.E.I. The truck was headed for the Boston area. (Submitted by John Visser)

'Last few weeks have been a struggle'

Potato importer Greg Maheras is one of those customers who's excited to see that P.E.I. potatoes are allowed back in the U.S.

He operates J. Maheras Co. and Chelsea Creek Farms in Chelsea, Mass., which was one of the first destinations for trucks leaving the Island on Monday.

Greg Maheras, of J. Maheras Co. and Chelsea Creek Farms in Chelsea, Mass., says before the border was closed to Island potatoes, his company was expecting to purchase 400 to 500 truckloads worth during the season. He predicts he will be back to that kind of volume very soon. (Submitted by Greg Maheras)

Maheras said he had already placed some orders to be ready to ship in anticipation of the border reopening.

"We were really happy," he said. The last few weeks have been a struggle trying to get a good product.... A couple of the chain stores are very happy. They've been having a hard time getting quality golds and quality russets, so I think they're all kind of excited that P.E.I. is back in the mix."

Pre-closure levels

Before the border was closed to Island potatoes, Maheras said his company was expecting to purchase 400 to 500 truckloads worth over the course of the season.

He said he predicts he will be back to that kind of volume very soon.

"We had a few things already coming in that we have to work through this week, that we had pre-ordered before the border was opened," Maheras said.

"But after that, I think we'll be right back to where we were prior to the stoppage."

The potatoes were loaded on a truck on Monday morning and the truck arrived in Boston on Tuesday morning. (Kirk Pennell/CBC )

Maheras said he's hoping to continue bringing in P.E.I. potatoes for at least the next couple of months, depending on the supply.

"I think they really have to probably get into their sheds to see what everything looks like, how it's held up," he said.

"I wasn't there on Tuesday when our first load came in, but they said it was the best looking load of golds that we've had in over a month, so that was a good start. Hopefully it holds up that way."

The P.E.I. Potato Board estimated a loss of about $2 million a week in sales to U.S. customers because of the export ban imposed on Nov. 21, 2021. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nancy Russell has been a reporter with CBC since 1987, in Whitehorse, Winnipeg, Toronto and Charlottetown. When not on the job, she spends her time on the water or in the gym rowing, or walking her dog. Nancy.Russell@cbc.ca

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