Last week, NPC issued the following Letter to the Editor in response to a Washington Post story that ran last weekend:
Thank you for highlighting the challenges faced by family farms in producing and distributing the world’s favorite vegetable: potatoes (On Canada’s ‘Spud Island,’ unsightly potatoes causing fear, frustration, economic pain).
However, your story, which casts the current crisis faced by Prince Edward Island (PEI) growers as a U.S. versus Canada issue due to their most recent disease detections, is vastly different than indicated.
The Canadian federal government is just as committed to preventing the spread of potato wart as U.S. growers are in keeping the disease off their farms.
After their latest disease finds – the second major ones in just 18 months – Canadian authorities took action to restrict the movement of seed potatoes from PEI, both internationally and domestically, to prevent the spread of wart to their other potato-producing provinces. They also halted shipments of table stock potatoes to the United States until all parties could be certain that disease-free potatoes were crossing the border.
Beyond producing unmarketable potatoes, the detection of potato wart in the U.S. would be devastating to our growers and the communities they support. At least $300 million per year in export markets would be immediately cut off, and we would need to undergo a lengthy and costly battle to regain those international customers.
PEI’s latest disease find in 2021 was second detection on PEI in less than 18 months and has occurred in 8 of the last 10 years. The detections in 33 potato fields in the province since 2000, plus a dramatic drop in the amount of disease testing via soil samples, makes U.S. potato growers questions how widespread the disease may be on the island.
As a solution, it is extremely positive that Canada has committed to conduct 35,000 soil samples on PEI to determine the scope of the disease, and thereby begin the process of resuming trade with the mainland U.S.
American consumers and potato growers who rely on PEI seed potatoes want normal trade to resume with PEI. However, we are not willing to risk the consequences of this disease and must allow the scientific process to work so that we are assured that the threat is mitigated.