Former general manager of the P.E.I. Potato Board reflects on wart crisis of 2001

Ivan Noonan has experienced plenty of high-stakes situations, but he confessed he was far more nervous addressing a room of people last month.

The former general manager of the Prince Edward Island Potato Board was among three recipients of industry appreciation awards Feb. 19 at the P.E.I. Potato Conference.

The others were Jack Reddin, founder of Reddin Farm Equipment in Stratford, which merged with Green Diamond Equipment in 2016, and David Scales, who purchased Island Fertilizers Ltd. from his father, Austin, in 1980 and oversaw its expansion and growth on and off the Island.

Noonan said he felt others were more deserving than him, including the two men he shared the stage with. “They’re both true gentlemen in the industry. They both were very dedicated to the farmers,” he said of Reddin and Scales.

Noonan, an Albany native, dealt with many issues during his 14 years at the helm of the potato board — none bigger than the potato wart crisis of 2001.

After the fungus was found in a processing field in Summerside, the United States closed its border entirely to P.E.I. potatoes.

“It was pretty scary, initially, when it was first found. It was kept quite quiet until it was confirmed by federal laboratory testing and the appropriate notifications were sent out,” Noonan said.

The U.S. wanted to close the border to all Canadian potatoes until Noonan assured them P.E.I. would put controls in place to prevent repacking of Island potatoes in other provinces that could then be shipped across the border.

“That was just going to devastate the whole Canadian market because we couldn’t possibly sell all the potatoes Canadian farmers produce in Canada.”

The farm in question was isolated by federal inspectors right away, and every truck leaving the Island had to be inspected at the station in Borden, with temporary measures limiting packages to 20 pounds or less, Noonan said.

“We went through so many roller coaster Friday afternoons,” Noonan said, where it looked like the border would re-open, but it didn’t happen.

After thousands of soil tests, inspection of thousands of fields after harvest and lobbying the highest levels of government, U.S. representatives visited the Island. They viewed the inspection station and systems in place, and the border slowly began to open again.

“It would not have happened without Ivan’s tireless efforts,” said Brenda Simmons, assistant general manager, in a citation read on behalf of the potato board.

Read the full article in The Guardian newspaper