Some of the last good potatoes in Canada are about to be shipped from Prince Edward Island to the United States — and the owner of one packinghouse says he’s worried he won’t see them on store shelves.
Charlie Smith, president of Ivey Farms on Edisto Island, said U.S. tariffs on Canadian potatoes are making it difficult for his company to sell domestically and that his U.S. competitors are profiting.
“The alternative — whatever tariffs are left — is to stay out of the U.S. and not produce potatoes for export,” Smith said. “That’s become much more challenging and difficult.”
A tariff package of 25 percent on softwood lumber led to a 5.5 percent duty on imported potatoes in January and has caused more than $6.2 million in revenue losses for Ivey and other Canadian producers in the Great White North, according to the Canadian Coalition for Agriculture, which represents small and mid-sized potato producers. The coalition said its numbers put softwood tariffs at 3.6 percent for all U.S. potato imports, including potatoes from Canada, and 7.7 percent for Canadian-origin imports.
Smith and some other P.E.I. potato growers are hoping their case will be heard in a meeting between the Canadian and U.S. agriculture ministers that is scheduled for July 26 in Washington.
The U.S. has said it will increase tariffs on Canadian softwood lumber in a dispute that has been brewing for more than a decade. Canada responded with tariffs on 571 U.S. products. And the latter began to apply to potatoes Aug. 2.
“All we’re trying to do is make sure there’s a fair deal,” Smith said. “Because as I know so well, life is full of uncertainty.”
The family-owned Smith family business had to figure out a new marketing strategy during the tariffs’ passage through the winter. It is running roughshod over growers in other parts of Canada, he said.
“We still have capacity,” Smith said, adding that most of the potatoes his company buys are still destined for the United States.
“But if tariffs remain the same, we’re going to see an increase in competition for the commodity and potato industry and an increase in costs,” he said.
Tropical North Carolina potato farmer Reggie Austin, a leader of the Canadian Coalition for Agriculture, said the tariff has “absolutely made it harder for the industry to operate.”
But Austin declined to speculate on whether farmers from other parts of Canada might be helped or hurt by the tariff’s imminent re-imposition.
Officials from several potato-producing states have said they are still focused on Canada. “I do think we’ll get a handle on it because for us that’s about the last thing we’re thinking about,” said Dallas Goldtooth, spokesman for South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem.