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Fourth case of potato wart discovered on P.E.I. doesn't change situation

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Despite the discovery of potato wart in another Prince Edward Island field, farmers and industry members say the situation hasn’t changed; the ongoing ban on seed potato exports is causing undue harm to farmers’ livelihoods and doing unnecessary damage to the industry.

Potato wart is harmless to humans, but deforms potatoes and reduces yields.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) made the recent discovery in a field adjacent to a pair of fields where the disease was detected in Oct. 2021 and Feb. 2022.

“Those are the places that we expect to continue to see positive results,” said Donald Killorn, executive director of the P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture.

But Killorn says the majority of potato fields on P.E.I. are “clear of potato wart.”

A statement from the CFIA says this wasn’t unexpected, and it’s common to discover potato wart in associated fields during an investigation.

Despite that, an export ban on seed potatoes remains.

“There are all kinds of places on P.E.I. that are fine to ship seed from — to other places in Canada and United States,” said John Visser, potato farmer and P.E.I. Potato Board chair. “But, at the moment, we can’t.”

Seed potatoes typically make up 10 per cent of the Island’s total potato crop, but the ban is changing that.

“We cut back,” said Visser. “We always ship seed off Island, and those acres for this year, as did a lot of growers that I know, or a lot of seed growers, they just didn’t grow those acres.”

The CFIA is currently working its way through testing for more than 17,000 samples taken after the initial potato wart discovery in October 2021.

“Actions taken by the federal government against Prince Edward Islanders' agriculture are not based on the reality on the ground,” said Killorn. “With each passing a sample that is clear of potato wart we feel stronger about that.”

The ban won’t be lifted until all the samples are tested and the investigation is finished. CFIA says that could be March or April of 2023.

Some farmers and industry members maintain the same message they’ve had since the beginning: there are procedures in place to make sure potato wart doesn’t spread on the Island, so any ban on exports is an unnecessary burden on those who make their living from the crop.

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