P.E.I. seed catalogue and suppliers hit by potato wart ban

·4 min read
Barry Cudmore with some of his 2021 harvest in a warehouse in Brackley, P.E.I. The Cudmores sells seed potatoes to Veseys, as well as to 23 garden centres in Atlantic Canada.  (Submitted by Barry Cudmore - image credit)
Barry Cudmore with some of his 2021 harvest in a warehouse in Brackley, P.E.I. The Cudmores sells seed potatoes to Veseys, as well as to 23 garden centres in Atlantic Canada. (Submitted by Barry Cudmore - image credit)

Another P.E.I. business is taking a hit because of potato wart.

Veseys Seeds in York, P.E.I., has been told they will not be allowed to ship potatoes to home gardeners across Canada this year, and that will have a ripple effect to the growers that supply the mail-order company.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) contacted Veseys on Monday, and told them that under the current rules no seed potatoes from P.E.I. can be shipped anywhere in Canada, including those sold by Veseys.

The CFIA suspended trade in fresh potatoes to the U.S. on Nov. 21. The move was in response to American concerns about the discovery of potato wart in two P.E.I. fields in October.

Potential refunds

The 2022 catalogue has been available to Veseys customers since November.

"It puts us in an awkward situation because nobody really knows where the light at the end of the tunnel is," said John Barrett, director of sales, marketing and development at Veseys.

Veseys Seeds
Veseys Seeds

"We can either continue to keep receiving orders every day and putting them in the system because we don't ship the potatoes 'til April or May, when the weather is a little more friendly and conducive to shipping a live product like a seed potato.

"We can continue to do that, and risk an incredible amount of time and expense in creating tens of thousands of refunds in the spring if it's not resolved. Or we could just simply stop taking orders, which would be a substantial revenue loss for our company."

Gardeners from coast to coast depend upon us for the food that they grow
—John Barrett, Veseys Seeds

Barrett said the company would usually ship more than 16,000 orders containing more than 21,000 kilograms (47,000 pounds) of seed potatoes, in two- and three-pound bags.

He said the loss would be substantial — into the six figures — and he doesn't understand why these potatoes going to home gardeners would be an issue.

Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC
Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC

"No one's been able to explain to us the logic behind that move," Barrett said.

"Being the largest mail-order gardening company in the country, gardeners from coast to coast depend upon us for the food that they grow in their gardens. So it's a puzzling decision that we don't really understand."

'Very disruptive and disturbing'

Barrett says he's also concerned about the impact to the growers who provide the seed for the mail-order business, including Barry and Ellen Cudmore in Brackley, P.E.I.

The Cudmores sells seed potatoes to Veseys, as well as to 23 garden centres in Atlantic Canada.

"It is devastating because between them and ourselves, we were literally supplying thousands of gardeners across Canada, just very disrupting and disturbing," Barry Cudmore said.

Submitted by Barry Cudmore
Submitted by Barry Cudmore

"Our farm didn't cause this issue yet we're being asked to pay for the issue, we're affected.

"I would say that every Islander, either directly or indirectly, is going to be affected by this sooner or later, if it's not quickly resolved."

We spent many years to build the market up for these potatoes
—Barry Cudmore, seed potato grower


Cudmore has been in contact with some of the stores that he supplies, and they have told him they are willing to wait until early in the New Year before seeking other sources for spring planting.

But he worries about losing their business if the issue isn't resolved.

"We spent many years to build the market up for these potatoes, and we grow potatoes specifically for these markets, and we source potatoes from other growers on P.E.I. to supply the varieties that we don't produce," Cudmore said.

"I'm leery, and I wouldn't blame the customers for going somewhere else because they want potatoes in their garden centres. And we may lose out."

Shane Hennessey/CBC
Shane Hennessey/CBC

Barrett has been sending letters to federal and provincial politicians, expressing his concerns about the ban on the sale of seed potatoes within Canada.

He said seed orders start to ramp up in mid-January, so for now it will be business as usual, hoping for a resolution in time for the company's busy season.

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