‘Thinking about ruining potatoes makes me sick to my stomach.’
Unsold potatoes are stacking up at W.P. Griffin Inc. in Elmsdale, P.E.I., with a big crop, no room in the Canadian market, and the U.S. border blocked for three weeks.
Co-owner Colton Griffin has had to cut the number of shifts at the family’s potato packing facility in the last three weeks, and he’s worried about what to do with the unsold potatoes.
“We’re really depressed after two or three bad years due to weather and things that are entirely beyond our control,” Griffin added.
“To finally have such a fantastic crop, with all these lovely potatoes in storage, only to have the border closed and the local market in Canada go to hell. It’s nothing more than a slap in the face.”
Following the detection of potato warts in two Island fields, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency stated that the fresh potato traffic to the United States will be halted. Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said the agency took action to avoid the United States from taking similar steps, which would be more difficult to undo.
Exports from P.E.I. came to a standstill unexpectedly, a trade worth around $120 million per year to the Island economy.
Workers are being sent home.
Griffin returned to Mexico with his team of nine temporary foreign employees shortly after the US border was blocked.
“They generally travel home for Christmas anyway,” Griffin explained, “but one group was supposed to return on the 10th or 15th of January, and we’ve put them on hold indefinitely.”
“There isn’t enough demand for all of the potatoes that P.E.I. wants to ship within Canada right now. There are simply not enough people to consume them.”
Griffin said his company is one of the fortunate ones on P.E.I., with enough Canadian orders to keep them in production three days a week, as opposed to two shifts a day, five days a week in a typical year.
He believes a government salary support scheme established last week will help. The wage subsidy scheme is worth $4.2 million and is set at $3,000 per month per employee, retroactive to December 1.
Potatoes are stacking up.
Griffin now has three weeks’ worth of unsold potatoes piling up in the company’s storage and must decide what to do next.
“At this point, I’d say two or three million pounds would be excessive. Every week, more potatoes build-up, and there is simply no time to load them “Griffin said.