Massachusetts Faces ‘Spudpocalypse’

2022-04-25 07:22:35 By : Ms. chris Zhu

CHICAGO – There’s a potato problem in Massachusetts.

The PEI Potato Board in Canada recently started a social media campaign warning of shortages of french fries and hash browns in the Bay State, the Boston Globe reported. This “spudpocalypse,” the campaign is calling it, stems from the U.S. Department of Agriculture stopping shipments of potatoes from Canada’s Prince Edward Island, 600 miles north, after potato wart was discovered in two island fields.

“Prices are rising,” the board cautioned in a video. “Shelves will soon be bare … The USDA is blocking our potatoes.”

Prince Edward Island is a Canadian province known for its deep red soil and potatoes, the Globe reported. Potatoes are a solid part of the island’s economy, taking in $1.3 billion annually.

PEI farmers ship 250 million to 300 million pounds of potatoes to America each year, with 25% going to Massachusetts, whose residents eat an average of 75 million pounds of PEI spuds each year, second only to Puerto Rico, according to Greg Donald, the general manager of the island’s potato board, the Globe reported.

The disease called potato wart has caused problems, however, with the soil-borne, quarantine pest producing unsightly spores and cauliflower-like appendages, the Globe reported. It poses no threat to humans but can quickly destroy potato crops and decimate agricultural economies.

“It’s one of the worst diseases you can get in this commodity,” Kam Quarles, the CEO of the U.S. National Potato Council, told the newspaper.

U.S. officials in November pressured the Canadian government to declare Prince Edward Island “a place infested with potato wart” after two fields presented with the disease. The country suspended PEI potato exports to the U.S. indefinitely.

Now, Massachusetts might may face a drop in its potato supply. Greg Maheras, a potato distributor at J Maheras Co. in Chelsea, told the Boston Herald his supply of potatoes from the island, normally more than 70,000 pounds, has dropped 30%.

The PEI Potato Board warns of potential price increases in its social media campaign, which encourages Massachusetts residents to urge U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack via email to let shipments resume, according to the Globe.

About 30 percent of Prince Edward Island potatoes go fresh to market and retail, the Globe reported, with 60% sent for processing, partially to ease a french fry shortage amid Covid. The final 10% is grown to seed more potatoes.

With just 5% of potatoes in the U.S. coming from Canada, and Massachusetts boasting potato farms, the doom might be overblown.

“I don’t think that there’ll be major supply constraints in the future,” Quarles told the paper, adding that domestic producers “will fill the gaps.”

U.S. officials and growers say any short-term economic injury from the potato suspension is outweighed by threats to U.S. potato farms, the Globe reported. Warts spread quickly, blackening spuds and possibly causing irreparable harm for decades. This could threaten Eastern seaboard farms that use PEI seed potatoes to grow their own.

Quarles said Canada has seen an uptick in disease detection incidents in the past 18 months. “We don’t want that happening here,” he added.

But Canadian growers disagree, the newspaper reported. The PEI Potato Board alleged that the National Potato Council is misinterpreting data about the spread of warts.

Canadian farmers, meanwhile, are hurting.

Any day now, island growers will start to dice up their tuber harvests, slowly rotting in storage, with snowblowers, leaving what remains to wither away, the Globe reported.

Marie-Claude Bibeau, the Canadian minister of agriculture, hopes PEI potatoes will be back in the United States in weeks, reported the paper. “The science is there,” she said. “We are very hopeful that we will see the market reopening through the United States for table stock potatoes soon.”

Meanwhile, Vilsack on Feb. 8 announced the resumption of potatoes from Prince Edward Island into Puerto Rico. The USDA determined importing these potatoes under specified conditions poses little risk of introducing potato wart disease to Puerto Rico.

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