A small group of PEI potato industry representatives, joined by Island Premier Dennis King, gathered today on Parliament Hill to distribute fresh PEI potatoes to some 6,000 passers by.

Part of ongoing efforts to reverse a sudden ban on exports of Island potatoes to the U.S., the group, with its many supporters, continues to search and call for a way to lift the ban. The PEI Potato Board, one of the organizers of today's grassroots initiative, estimates some 16 million pounds of potatoes worth more than $4.8 million have been lost to date due to the inaccessibility of U.S. fresh potato markets usually serviced by the province's potato farmers. The United States market represents a value of $120 million annually to the Prince Edward Island potato industry. The ban is also having a negative effect on other export and domestic markets.

Image: CNW Group/Prince Edward Island Potato Board 

"Losing a large part of your loyal and regular customer base, so suddenly and at this time of the year, is a huge defeat and, quite frankly, a catastrophe for our family farmers," says Greg Donald, general manager of the PEI Potato Board, an organization that represents more than 175 potato farmers in PEI "If there's any consolation it's that people on both sides of the border seem to care deeply about our wellbeing and would like to see a return to normal and friendly trade relations. People appreciate our potatoes and don't see a reason to penalize our farmers in this way."

Representatives from national organizations such as the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, the Canadian Cattlemen's Association and the Ontario Potato Board also attended to show their support. 

"Even with the cold and snow, the good people of Ottawa that we met were all smiles, which is what we like to see when we're trading in potatoes," said John Visser, a third-generation farmer from Victoria, Prince Edward Island who joined the group. "We know there can be a great deal of complex topics when it comes to trade, but open markers for potatoes shouldn't be one of them. We are here today to express to our federal officials how urgent it is to end this ban so we can deliver our potatoes to the plates and people that are expecting them this winter."

Over the past two weeks, the PEI Potato Board has been working around the clock with farmers, Island government representatives and The Honourable Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and her team, as well as other partners and experts to come to amicable and fruitful terms with partners south of the border.

For more information: peipotato.org