News Release: HAMILTON, Bermuda – The Ministry of Home Affairs refutes the Bermuda Farmers Association’s claim that this year’s potato harvest will be less than last year’s and reaffirms that the necessary processes are in place to protect the island’s environment, agriculture production, and the farmers themselves.

The Ministry can advise that two containers of seed potatoes were imported for planting this year, the same number as the previous year. Although a different group was able to import the needed seed potato last season, in 2022, another party successfully arranged the shipment of seed potatoes. Furthermore, the number of bags imported is based on the amounts ordered by participating farmers, which amounted to 1056 bags of potatoes. The amount farmers could import was not limited by the Government.

The shipment included Red Chieftain, Yukon Golds, Russets, and three varieties of fingerlings from Maine, USA. In comparison, 1430 bags were brought in the previous year for the 2021 crop, which did not include Yukon golds and fingerlings potatoes.

The main difference this year is two of the leading commercial farmers, who usually plant potatoes, decided not to purchase from the farmer importing the seed potatoes. Eight commercial farmers bought potatoes from this year’s shipment.

Also, every farmer had the opportunity on at least three occasions to purchase directly from the importing farmer, an improvement over previous years when seed potatoes were sold only to selected farmers.

Regarding the assertion that it was too late in the year for the crop to flourish, the Ministry has accurate timelines of when seed potatoes were available for planting and can confirm it has been in days of each other for the past several years. This year potatoes were imported for planting two days earlier than in 2021 and only nine days later than in 2020.

Feedback on the quality of this year’s seed potatoes was outstanding, so it will be interesting to see the results when the crop is harvested. However, comparing harvests at this stage is challenging as the crop is still in the ground.

For clarity, last year (2022), three farmers expressed an interest in importing seed potatoes. In June 2022, the Plant Protection Laboratory met with the first two farmers, who had partnered together, and, recognising the challenges presented by their preferred supplier, provided guidance similar to previous years. The department advised the two farmers to seek an alternative supplier to meet Bermuda’s entry requirements. Unfortunately, they were not able to meet the requirements for several reasons. However, a second party sought a supplier of seed potatoes, applied to import, and successfully imported them under the same conditions, despite a shorter turnaround period.

Also, while delays are expected, the most significant this year was due to receiving the results of required tests to ensure that the shipment was clean. The challenge stems from the need to test the leafy part of the potato for specific diseases. Testing an actively growing leaf is a relatively quick process. The leafy portion is typically cut off around Labour day, as the crop is readied for harvesting overseas. However, if the leaf is unavailable, specimens of potato tuber samples must be induced to produce leaves, which must then be tested. This testing is done in overseas laboratories and takes time for the plant to grow. To ensure prompt results, testing of plants should occur before Labour day and requires the importer to submit timely applications so that the Plant Protection Laboratory can work with the necessary overseas entities to test the potatoes they want to import.

As we advance, the Ministry will notify all importers that testing of the leafy portion of the plant is required, which will help significantly reduce shipment delays.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources remains committed to the island’s environment and arable land’s health. The annual seed potato shipment(s) is of particular concern as this is a consolidated shipment for many farmers that could have a long-term impact on all of Bermuda’s fields, island-wide. The various viruses affecting other crops’ yield can decimate hundreds of ornamentals and the potato wart fungus (picture included see link below). This fungus is visually unsightly and can destroy a potato crop by preventing tuber production. It remains dormant in a field for over 40 years and has no known treatment. For this and many other reasons, DENR will take every step necessary to protect agriculture while reasonably supporting the needs of our agricultural community.

Also, some farmers depend on sourcing seed potatoes from certain parts of Canada and refrain from sourcing from other regions. Due to the presence of potato wart in some parts of Canada, the United States has embargoed any importation of Canadian seed potatoes. The Canadian suppliers were also unwilling to undergo the necessary testing required to ensure no risk to Bermuda. As such, this requires vigilance by our Plant Protection team. Despite this, there was no additional requirement put on local farmers to import seed potatoes. One successfully completed the necessary testing and approvals, ensuring a successful importation of the needed seed potato.”

Lastly, the Ministry can advise that strawberry import regulations have been disseminated. A courtesy reminder to the agriculture industry regarding the importation of seed potatoes will be sent as a follow-up to the previously shared information to ensure all importers know the rules. This will ensure that all interested parties are advised of the requirements well in advance and do not wait until the last minute to try and import.

Potato wart fungus example –