P.E.I. Citizens Volunteer to Help Ship Potatoes to Puerto Rico

Published online: Feb 16, 2022 Articles Arturo Chang
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Source: CBC News

Islanders have found yet another way to support potato farmers amid the U.S. trade ban: by offering to help stick the necessary labels on potato bags to get them shipped to Puerto Rico.

Starting this week, Prince Edward Island potato growers are once again allowed to ship their product to the U.S. territory, months after the Canadian Food Inspection Agency imposed a suspension on exports to America due to the discovery of potato wart in two Island fields.

Farmers have welcomed the news as much needed relief for the industry. However, there's one particular sticking point: labels have to be placed on all potato bags going to Puerto Rico, indicating that the spuds are meant exclusively for consumption and can't leave the Caribbean island.

The P.E.I. Potato Board said that while the first shipment for Puerto Rico leaves on Monday, it may take some time to figure out an efficient way to comply with the requirements.

Richelle Dowling is just one of the Islanders who has enlisted to help. This week, she contacted the board after seeing a social media post asking for volunteers to get stickers on the bags.

"I know there's been a lot of people who are volunteering to go out and help farmers," she said. "Everyone I know has been buying local, buying from the farmers, putting scalloped potatoes in the freezer for when prices go back up and exports start happening again and writing letters. This is just another way."

The Potato Board has been taking the names of volunteers such as Dowling, and connecting them with businesses shipping product out.

"Some of that is in the schools and, you know, in community groups ... some of that has already been materialized directly through some of the packers and through the province," Greg Donald, the board's director said. 

"Typical Island style. It's just amazing."

For Dowling, this is just "the right thing to do," following what's been a major crisis for one of P.E.I.'s most important industries. 

"I've got some time. My kids are more than happy to help, my husband," she said.

"I can't imagine being in the situation of looking at your years work and having to destroy it. So, you know, I want to help them get their potatoes off the Island."

Potato Destruction Gets Underway

But while the industry can now send potatoes to a key market, the week has been bittersweet for some. 

Skye View Farms owner Alex Docherty spent his Friday destroying over half a million pounds of potatoes which would normally be moved in March.

The potatoes need to be destroyed by the end of February so that they qualify for compensation under the new federal and provincial programs.

"We had no other choice. We want to participate in the program. We got to start now and do it," Docherty said.

"We're very fortunate enough [that with] what we're putting to the blower, we're also looking after ... our neighbours that have cattle, which at least there's some good coming out of that. At least an animal is going to get some good."

Docherty said the resumption of trade to Puerto Rico won't make up for the entire U.S. market.

Donald said that he hopes trade with the mainland can resume in the near future.

"We have lost a few months here," he said. "There's a lot of potatoes ... that no longer have a market."