P.E.I. Rolls Out Potato Disposal Plan

Published online: Feb 07, 2022 Articles Nancy Russell
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Source: CBC News

P.E.I. potato growers have submitted their applications to dispose of some of the potatoes left unsold because of the export ban to the United States.

Under the plan, being administered by the P.E.I. Potato Board, the potatoes need to be destroyed by the end of February to qualify for compensation from the federal and provincial governments. 

A dispute over potato wart has closed the U.S. border to P.E.I. potatoes since November.

The closure leaves Island farmers with an estimated 300 million pounds of potatoes they cannot sell. 

'It's Devastating'

Brian Annear was forced to destroy a warehouse full of red potatoes on Wednesday.

Destined for the United States, he said, they had been in storage too long and without a market, had to be destroyed.

"It's devastating, but I think I had a couple months to prepare for it. I could see this was going to happen," Annear said. 

"Mentally it's not something we want to do, but it was inevitable."

Annear said destroying more than a million pounds of potatoes was a substantial loss to Annear Farms.

About 40% of Annear's crop is fresh table-stock potatoes, mainly yellow and red potatoes, sold into the United States.

He has applied for compensation, to destroy more than four million pounds, but is hoping it will be less than that if the export ban is lifted. 

"I'm really hopeful I won't have to go that route. I think if the border opens, there's probably a million pounds that I will have to get rid of," Annear said.

"Other than that, I'm hoping the rest will make it to the market. They're in good quality storage. We just need this thing to open up and get moving."

Proper Disposal

The P.E.I. Potato Board is now reviewing the applications from growers across the Island. 

Growers were asked how many potatoes they have been able to sell so far, or have disposed of in other ways, such as shipping to the dehydration plant or for cattle feed.

They must also provide the amount they are requesting to destroy by the end of February.

Ryan Barrett, research and agronomy specialist with the board, said cold temperatures are important for proper disposal.   

"We want to make sure that those potatoes are fully broken down and decomposed by the springtime so that they don't have the opportunity to regrow this coming growing season," Barrett said.

"These potatoes are going to be spread on fields that were in potatoes last year, and that are going to be in another crop next year. So you don't want those potatoes to regrow as weeds in that grain or for corn or whatever crop you're growing."

Barrett said if potatoes regrow, called volunteers, they can sometimes be "reservoirs for disease."

He said it is also important to spread the potatoes in a thin layer, and chop them up in a snowblower first, so that they are all exposed to the cold.

"The optimal plan would be to have a reasonably light coating of material over the whole field or as wide an area as possible," Barrett said. 

"Any time that there is a pile or a denser layer, there would be the potential that more potatoes on the bottom of the pile would be insulated by what's above, and may sort of escape getting fully frozen and may be more likely to be a volunteer next year."

'Back to the Ground'

Barrett said it's also easier if the ground is frozen to get the potatoes to the field. 

"If we were doing this in April and the ground was thawed out and it was muddy, that can cause quite a bit of damage to the soil structure," Barrett said.

"It can lead to a lot of compaction, which then has long-term detriments to growing crops in those fields."

Barrett said by the spring, the potatoes will be barely visible, and will actually provide some benefit to the soil.

"That potato material will start to break down pretty quickly as soon as we get ground thaw, and we get warmer temperatures and it'll just be nutrients back to the ground," Barrett said.

"Your average person might notice some brown streaks or something on some fields where people have been doing some of this destruction, unfortunately. But in the spring, it should break down pretty quickly."

The board said it will have more information for growers next week on the details of the plan, and expects disposal will start to happen across the Island soon after that.