P.E.I. farmers focus on 2022 crop as potato wart investigation continues

·3 min read
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) says that, including the samples collected last fall, it now has more than 20,000 samples.  (Shane Hennessey/CBC  - image credit)
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) says that, including the samples collected last fall, it now has more than 20,000 samples. (Shane Hennessey/CBC - image credit)

P.E.I. farmers are trying to focus on the positive weather so far this growing season as they await the results of the ongoing investigation into potato wart.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) banned potato shipments to the U.S. in November 2021, a decision designed to pre-empt an all-out U.S. ban after potato wart fungus was detected in two fields on the Island last fall.

Table potato shipments resumed in April, but seed potatoes, which make up about 10 per cent of the Island's annual output, are still banned in the U.S. and the rest of Canada, pending the outcome of a more thorough investigation.

Shane Hennessey/CBC
Shane Hennessey/CBC

In an email to CBC News, CFIA reported it collected approximately 16,900 samples between April 13 and June 3, and that combined with samples taken in the fall, it now has more than 20,000.

The agency received $12 million over two years in the April 2022 federal budget to increase its soil collection and testing capacity.

The agency said "sampling efforts will continue on a smaller scale during the summer growing season and will fully resume once harvest begins and continue until late fall".

Shane Hennessey/CBC
Shane Hennessey/CBC

It added: "The total number of samples required to complete the investigation is approximately 36,600. However, this is just an estimate and the final number is dependent on the protocol in the field."

CFIA said it will provide an update in July 2022 on its website, and every quarter, until the investigation is completed, including the number of samples collected, tested, and if any potato wart has been detected.

Concern about testing capacity

The general manager of the P.E.I. Potato Board said while he appreciates the additional efforts, the investigation still isn't happening quickly enough.

"Of course, we'd like to have all the samples taken as quick as possible, and we think perhaps more could have been taken last fall," Donald said.

"But I know that local CFIA folks have done everything they can to get as many samples as they can, as quick as possible."

Shane Hennessey/CBC
Shane Hennessey/CBC

Donald said the Potato Board is also concerned about the speed at which the laboratory analysis is being done.

"There's definitely capacity issues there. Last update we had, they could do upwards of 3,000 per month," Donald said.

"You can start to do the math. It's going to take over a year to get the number of samples done that need to be done, so that's concerning."

Shane Hennessey/CBC
Shane Hennessey/CBC

Donald said he's worried, in particular, for seed growers who remain shut out of the United States, as well as the rest of Canada.

He said the Potato Board is currently doing a survey to determine how many acres have been planted this season.

He said he anticipates at least a five per cent drop, with the largest percentage in the seed sector.

Shane Hennessey/CBC
Shane Hennessey/CBC

Promoting P.E.I. potatoes

Donald said the Potato Board has also been working hard to promote P.E.I. potatoes to customers around the world.

A delegation, including the premier, attended the World Potato Congress in Dublin, Ireland, earlier this month.

"There's over 900 delegates from potato-producing areas all over the world," Donald said.

"It showed the rest of the world that we have some issues here on P.E.I., but we're still going to be a strong, significant player in the world potato industry."

Before Dublin, staff from the Potato Board visited the Netherlands, to learn about their best practices around controlling potato wart.

"The Netherlands is the world's leader in seed sales globally, and they have potato wart," Donald said.

"It was very interesting and educational to go there, and experience first-hand how they're doing that."

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