PEI

Seed potato exports won't resume until at least 2023, says P.E.I. agriculture minister

P.E.I.'s agriculture minister confirms there will be no exports of Island seed potatoes until at least 2023, and says he's working with the federal government to provide more supports to seed potato producers. 

Federal government discussing more supports to seed potato producers

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency will lift its ban on exporting P.E.I. table or eating potatoes — but not seed or processing potatoes. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

P.E.I.'s agriculture minister confirms there will be no exports of Island seed potatoes until at least 2023, and says he's working with the federal government to provide more supports to seed potato producers. 

Last week, The Canadian Food Inspection Agency announced it will lift its ban on exporting P.E.I. table or eating potatoes — but not seed or processing potatoes. 

Shipments of fresh potatoes to the U.S. mainland have been banned for months, following the discovery of potato wart in two P.E.I. fields in October.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency halted shipments of potatoes to the U.S. in November, prompted by a U.S. threat that it would act if Canada did not. Canadian officials were concerned that an American action would be more difficult to reverse.

P.E.I. seed potatoes currently cannot be exported to the U.S. or to other Canadian provinces, said P.E.I.'s Agriculture Minister Bloyce Thompson. 

Over the weekend, Thompson met with federal Agriculture Minister Marie Claude Bibeau on the Island and he said they discussed the ongoing impact on seed potato producers and how both governments could support them going forward. 

"She will not lift that order until all the soil testing is done in 2023, so, really, the seed producers are really going to struggle here to ever get that business back," Thompson said. 

Thompson said the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is meeting with seed potato growers on P.E.I. to talk about compensation and finding a path forward.

P.E.I. Agriculture Minister says exports of seed potatoes from the Island will not resume until at least 2023 once all soil testing on P.E.I. is complete. (Ken Linton/CBC)

He said there are about 3000-4000 acres (between 1214-1618 hectares) on P.E.I. that are used for growing seed potatoes that will be affected by the ongoing ban on exports. 

"They need some compensation right away, and then they need some supports to transition to another crop if they can, or if they're going to continue to grow potatoes what avenue they're going to take there," Thompson said. 

"There's a lot of decisions for them to make, and I think we have to have the best programming around them to focus on them and help support them when needed."

Transition won't be easy

But making the transition to a different type of crop won't be an easy process, Thompson said. 

"There's opportunities in other crops such as cereals and corns, but, you know, when you're not set up for those it takes time to transition," he said. 

Thompson said he asked the federal government if P.E.I.'s officials could assist with testing soil in fields across the province to speed up the process, but the federal government said its timeline for testing was firm. 

"There's only one lab and they said they couldn't build another lab in time, it's really frustrating," Thompson said. 

"We knew it was going to be tougher to open the seed market and we were hoping, shortly after the U.S. border opening, that this would change — but they seem to have drawn the line in the sand on this one." 

The minister said officials within his department are part of a working group with the P.E.I. Potato Board and tasked with coming up with some possible solutions or directions for seed growers. He said the province will support seed growers in every way it can. 

Thompson said an announcement regarding the export of table stock potatoes resuming to the mainland U.S. market could be expected in the coming days.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brittany Spencer is a multi-platform journalist with CBC P.E.I. Email: brittany.spencer@cbc.ca

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