'It's a terrible time': P.E.I. farmers concerned after potato shipments to the U.S. suspended
The premier of Prince Edward Island accused the federal government of ignoring science and historical protocol after P.E.I. potato shipments to the U.S. were suspended Monday following the discovery of potato wart.
"The potato industry in Prince Edward Island is equivalent to the value of the auto industry in Ontario, the forest industry in British Columbia, the oil and gas sector in Alberta,” said Premier Dennis King.
When asked what the reason was for the suspension if science wasn't behind the decision, King said there has to be something else at play that he isn't aware of.
"As I have been saying... I have no doubt the United States is a difficult and firm trading partner. I have no doubt about that just by their sheer size and economic strength, but we also have these Health and Safety Protocols that have been developed between our countries that have allowed trade to continue and we're really at a loss to understand as to why this decision has come to what it is today," said King during an interview with CTV News on Monday.
King added the infected potatoes from the two fields were never destined for the United States, and the Island stands behind its product.
"We would not ship potatoes to our partners if we didn't think they were of the highest quality," King said during a news conference in Charlottetown.
Potato wart is a fungal parasite that spreads through infected potatoes. Although it isn't harmful to humans, it decreases the yield of potato crops.
The suspension has farmers in New Brunswick just as worried for the industry.
"I don't think anybody really wishes any hardship on another province,” said Nick Tisdale, Lakefront Farms Ltd.
“There's always a spinoff, so I guess you could look at it and say, well maybe New Brunswick could have a chance to fill a few of those voids. But in the scheme of things, all New Brunswick farmers have some seed coming off the island or do reciprocal business back and forth, so I would call that a bit of an ignorant way to look at it,” Tisdale said.
It could mean big changes for New Brunswick farmers, and beyond the Maritimes.
"It's going to impact our business in ways, you know, all of a sudden you close the U.S. doors to a province that, you know, probably 70 per cent of their crop went there and that crop's got to go somewhere and all of a sudden, all of the famers in Canada are going to feel this. Everything from P.E.I. has to go to Canada now,” said Richard Strang, CEO of Strang’s Produce.
This being one of the best years for potato crops in a decade, farmers are worried that it could chip away at the price of potatoes.
"We support P.E.I.’s requests that the CFIA convey and emphasize to the United States Department of Agriculture, Animal, and Plant Health Inspection Service the strong science-based rationale that supports the re-opening of the U.S. market to high quality and safe P.E.I. fresh potatoes,” said Margaret Johnson, New Brunswick's minister of Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries, In a statement to CTV.
"Your heart has to go out to those people that not only own those farms but work on those farms. I mean, here it is, we're coming on to Christmas and could be potentially one of the busiest times of year for our packing sheds and seed potatoes going to the U.S. to be planted directly, so it's really not a great,” Nick Tisdale said. “There's never a good time for something like this but it's a terrible time."
With files from The Canadian Press.