Canada hopeful table potato shipments will resume in weeks to Puerto Rico, U.S. mainland

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FILE PHOTO: Prince Edward Island potato field

By Rod Nickel

– Canada is hopeful of resuming shipments of table potatoes from the province of Prince Edward Island (PEI) to the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico in two weeks, and to the U.S. mainland in the weeks following that, partially resolving a trade dispute, Canadian Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said.

Bibeau met in Washington on Thursday with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, after shipments of PEI fresh potatoes to the United States halted in November over U.S. concerns about potato wart.

Bibeau said Vilsack agreed to ask the U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to conduct a risk analysis of PEI potatoes to Puerto Rico within two weeks, and a risk analysis for the mainland United States in the weeks after that.

“It gave us a lot of hope,” Bibeau told Reuters. “Considering that our Canadian scientists are so confident (about safety), we think that the American scientists should come to the same conclusion.”

Table potatoes are those meant for human consumption without processing. Bibeau said it would take longer to resolve concerns about potatoes for processing and planting.

Potato wart can decrease crop yields but poses no threat to human health.

Vilsack’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Farmers in tiny PEI this year expected to sell C$120 million ($94.24 million) worth of potatoes, some 300 million pounds, to the United States.


But within a week, farmers will begin destroying potatoes to prevent them from rotting, said Greg Donald, general manager of the PEI Potato Board.

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“Folks have just been hanging on, hoping that there will be a change in the border situation,” he said.

The United States has not detected potato wart since the 1970s, said Kam Quarles, CEO of the National Potato Council.

U.S. East Coast farmers and processors rely on PEI for seed and fresh potatoes, Quarles said. At U.S. cold-storage facilities in the New England region, potato supplies dropped by 29% to 29.2 million pounds over the year through Dec. 31, USDA data shows.

($1 = 1.2733 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg; additional reporting by Tom Polansek in Chicago and Leah Douglas in Washington; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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