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Feds offer $28 million to support PEI potato producers

Feds offer $28 million to support PEI potato producers

Government of Canada providing financial support to potato producers affected by trade ban to US.

By Andrew Joseph,

On December 20, 2021, the Federal Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Marie-Claude Bibeau announced $28-million in funding to support Prince Edward Island potato farmers affected by trade disruptions.

PEI potato farmers and producers are currently taking it on the chin (and presumably elsewhere) losing money and livelihood after the suspension of its potatoes being allowed to be exported to the US market, a decision made late October by the CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) after a few instances of potato wart were found.

Potato wart is a soil-borne fungus that can remain dormant in a field for more than 40 years. It has no negative effects on human health or food safety; however, it has an impact on the economic return for potato growers by reducing yield and making potatoes unmarketable.

The US is a major destination for PEI potatoes, with approximately $103.4 million of total provincial table stock and processing potato exports in 2020. Trade of processed potatoes is not affected by the suspension of export certification. In 2020, PEI’s processed potato exports (such as frozen fries or chips) to the US were valued at $370.8 Million.

The Federal aid package is a step in the right direction—an acknowledgement that PEI’s potato producers are struggling. Calling it a “Team Canada” approach, the Feds are working with the Province of PEI and industry to support potato growers in an effort to resume full market access for PEI fresh potatoes.

This funding of up to $28 million will be used to support the diversion of surplus potatoes, including help to redirect surplus potatoes to organizations addressing food insecurity and support for the environmentally-sound disposal of surplus potatoes. It will also support marketing activities and will help industry to develop long-term strategies to manage future challenges.

“Our government understands the importance of potatoes for Prince Edward Island’s economy. Many families’ livelihoods depend on this industry. Islanders are proud of their high-quality potatoes, so much so that it is a part of their identity. We share that pride, and with our Team Canada partners, we are doing all that is in our power to re-open the American market and support producers,” said the Honourable Marie-Claude Bibeau.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada will work with the Government of PEI, the PEI Potato Board, national food bank organizations and other stakeholder groups to deliver the funding. Details on how producers can access support will be available through the coming weeks.

While acknowledging the Federal monies, there was still anger in the air for PEI producers.

“We appreciate the assistance announcement as a start. However, what’s going to make the most difference to us is a resolution to the border issue, so we can resume trade as soon as possible,” said John Visser, Prince Edward Island farmer and Chairman of the PEI Potato Board.

Also happening today, PEI farmers in a show of solidarity paraded through the streets of Charlottetown carting 500,000lbs of potatoes in a convoy of nearly 40 trucks, with the trucks bearing messages criticizing the ban and the effect it was having on potato producers in the province.

Said the Honourable Lawrence MacAulay, Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence, Member of Parliament for Cardigan: “Our potatoes on Prince Edward Island are the best you’ll find anywhere in the world, and the folks involved in the potato industry here are some of the finest you could ever hope to meet. As a former potato grower myself, I understand just how tough this situation is on them. Our government is going to be there for them every step of the way, and we’ll continue to do everything we can to get our PEI potatoes back to market in the United States. Today’s announcement is a vital step in supporting our potato growers through this difficult time.”

As more aid, Farm Credit Canada had previously announced it would be available for its customers to help get them through the worst of the situation.

Within the Federal announcement, it was noted that potato producers would also have access to a suite of other Business Risk Management (BRM) programs to help them manage issues.

The Governments of Canada and PEI recently made adjustments to the AgriStability program, which protects producers against large declines in farming income, so that producers who did not enroll for the 2021 program year can sign-up now and still access this important income support. Furthermore, AgriStability interim payments have increased, so that producers can now apply for up to 75 percent of their anticipated payment, up from 50 percent.

The Government of Canada said it stands firmly on the science that indicates that the risks associated with the transmission of potato wart from fresh potatoes remains negligible when appropriate risk mitigation measures are in place. The CFIA will continue to make science-based data and details of its investigation into the October 2021 detections available to the United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to highlight the strengths of Canada’s Potato Wart Domestic Long Term Management Plan. Soil sampling and soil testing processes are taking place as quickly as possible.

“This is an incredibly hard time for our province’s potato farmers. The United States has been clear that trade cannot resume until we have worked through their technical concerns. We are taking a Team Canada approach to stand up for our potato growers here on the Island and make sure we can urgently get our world-class potatoes back to market in the United States as fast as possible,” said Heath MacDonald, Member of Parliament for Malpeque, PEI.

But, what irks PEI potato farmers is that Canada doesn’t believe its potatoes are a problem, as the CFIA has okayed its sale and distribution across Canada. It’s just a ban to the US—a huge customer base—that truly has producers up in arms.

For the PEI farmers, it is felt that CFIA ban of its potatoes being exported to the US was a leap in judgement—believing that the Federal Government sought the ban quickly as a means to prevent the US from banning it, even though they may not have. The Feds call it preventative maintenance, the PEI potato farmers call it bad judgement.

Po-tay-toe—po-tah-toe depending on which side you are on.

Important collaborations continue through the Government-Industry Potato Working Group as it brings together key stakeholders of the PEI potato sector to exchange information, help mitigate impacts of potato wart on the sector, and identify potential short and long-term solutions to current trade disruptions.

Fred Gorrell has been asked to be the new co-chair of the Potato Working Group. Gorrell is very well known within the sector and comes with years of experience as a former Assistant Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, and leader of the Market Access Secretariat.

“Collaboration between federal, provincial, and industry leaders is essential to supporting the PEI potato industry during this tremendously difficult time. We have to be in this together, working towards the goal of resuming trade and securing the prosperity of our industry. Resolving this situation is of utmost importance. We will continue to seek all possible solutions and be there for our hardworking farmers and members along the value-chain,” explained Sean Casey, Member of Parliament for Charlottetown, PEI.

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Comments (1)

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It is great to see our PEI farmers being treated with respect (perhaps long overdue) - there are outstanding Canadian Farmers throughout Canada - let's all work together in times of trouble.
Peter |Dec 23 2021 7:42AM