Skip to main content

P.E.I. premier says surplus potatoes will soon be destroyed if export ban not lifted


Potato producers in Prince Edward Island will have to start destroying a massive surplus in a matter of days if a resolution is not found soon to the dispute that has blocked exports to the United States, Premier Dennis King said Thursday.

King led a delegation to Capitol Hill this week, meeting with U.S. senators in hopes of ending a ban that has halted potato shipments from P.E.I. south of the border after the discovery of a fungus in Island potato fields.

But as the visit drew to a close, King worried that a large portion of this year's bumper potato crop -- enough, he said, to fill 36 floors of a building the size of an NHL arena -- will have to be destroyed.

Over lunch Thursday at a downtown D.C. hotel, the delegation spoke openly about their collective bewilderment at how dramatically the situation has escalated without what any of them see as a good reason. And in a country where inflation is on the march, they warned the impact will be unmistakable.

"The fact that P.E.I. won't be in the market will mean there'll be a lack of supply, or whatever supply is there will cost more. So this isn't just one jurisdiction not being able to sell potatoes; it's going to impact a lot of individuals," King said.

Even more baffling is that while about 25 per cent of what the province produces goes to the U.S., a large portion of that is typically bound for Puerto Rico, where potatoes are not farmed.

"No one can understand why that would pose a risk," King said. "That makes us question whether or not science is actually driving this."

It's not lost on the delegation that Canada is currently fighting with the U.S. on a number of trade fronts, including a Biden administration proposal on electric vehicles that poses a major risk to the Canadian auto industry. In fact, King said senior Canadian officials urged members of the delegation to raise the EV issue in their meetings.

"OK, yeah, so we're Team Canada players, absolutely," he said. "But is somebody raising potatoes when they're in the EV meetings? I don't know that. We certainly don't feel like they are, because nobody down here knows what the potato issue is until we meet with them."

Senators appeared surprised to learn P.E.I. potatoes are still being shipped across Canada, he added.

"They were of the belief that they're poison, or not edible," he said. "All of that seems to be just this lack of communication or poor communication on behalf of us, and it's just so frustrating."

In an interview Thursday with The Canadian Press, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged the challenge the province is facing but blamed it on another "articulation of U.S. protectionism."

"I very much understand how dismayed he is," Trudeau said, noting that he discussed the issue at length with President Joe Biden when the two met in D.C. last month.

"The ban on table potatoes is not based on science, it is based on the kind of protectionism that unfortunately we are seeing in a lot of different ways in the United States. The moves we are doing and the efforts we are making continually to stand up for Islanders and farmers across this country will continue."

P.E.I. farmer Mark Craig says he has about 100 trailer truckloads of potatoes stored away and he's worried about their fate. "It's just a shame to have to even think about destroying this crop," he said in an interview Wednesday.

He and other farmers on the Island are looking at that possibility as they near the fourth week since Canada banned all exports of fresh potatoes from the Island to the U.S. after fungal potato wart was found in two potato fields. Canadian officials have said the U.S. would have imposed a ban -- that would have been harder to reverse -- had Canada not done so first.

Boyd Rose of East Point Potatoes said that in talks with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, he was told the agency has begun a national potato wart survey to ensure the fungus hasn't spread. Rose also said the agency is looking to collect and analyze some 30,000 soil samples from the fields where the fungus was most recently detected, a process that he was told could take until 2023.

"Normally, we would be planning this time of year as to what seed we're going to buy, what varieties, how many acres, making our purchases for fertilizers and everything is just 100 per cent up in the air," Rose said in an interview Thursday.

Craig said he hopes the federal government will buy his potatoes and deliver them to people in need across the country. Otherwise, he said, he would like Ottawa to compensate farmers if they have to destroy their crops.

Randy Visser, owner of G. Visser and Sons, said in an interview that some producers have taken to sending potatoes to food banks across the province. "Every home we can find that can utilize these potatoes before they're destroyed is absolutely the priority," Visser said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 16, 2021.

With files from Danielle Edwards in Halifax

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship. Top Stories

Ontario doctors disciplined over Israel-Gaza protests

A number of doctors are facing scrutiny for publicizing their opinions on the Israel-Hamas war. Critics say expressing their political views could impact patient care, while others say that it is being used as an excuse for censorship.

'No concessions' St-Onge says in $100M a year news deal with Google

The Canadian government has reached a deal with Google over the Online News Act that will see the tech giant pay $100 million annually to publishers, and continue to allow access to Canadian news content on its platform. This comes after Google had threatened to block news on its platform when the contentious new rules come into effect next month.

Hamas frees 10 Israeli women and children, 4 Thai nationals

Ten Israeli women and children and four Thai nationals held captive in Gaza were freed by Hamas, and Israel followed with the release of a group of Palestinian prisoners Thursday. It was the latest exchange of hostages for prisoners under a temporary ceasefire in the Gaza war. Two Russian-Israeli women were also freed by Hamas in a separate release.


opinion Don Martin: With Trudeau resignation fever rising, a Conservative nightmare appears

With speculation rising that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will follow his father's footsteps in the snow to a pre-election resignation, political columnist Don Martin focuses on one Liberal cabinet minister who's emerging as leadership material -- and who stands out as a fresh-faced contrast to the often 'angry and abrasive' leader of the Conservatives.

Stay Connected