News March 2019

Back when Maine potatoes were at the root of a trade war with New Brunswick

Nearly 40 years ago, Maine farmers brought their rotten potatoes to Canada’s New Brunswick border crossings and put them to use. Angry about cheaper potatoes imported from New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, they staged protests and blockades, which is where the potatoes came in.

Trucks, protesters and piles of potatoes blocked several border points, preventing the transfer of all goods between the two countries, starting on March 27, 1980. As the Toronto Star reported on March 28, 1980, the farmers dumped their rotting potatoes on the roads, and “one group burned a Canadian flag.”

The potato growers were aiming for the attention of their own government over trade agreements that allowed cheaper Canadian spuds to be sold in the New England market.

Two hundred state troopers stood by in riot gear in case of a clash between the farmers and the truckers at the Houlton crossing, trying to get their goods across the border.

Potato grower Mike Brown gave a short, blunt explanation for the standoff. “Poverty, nothing but damn poverty,” he said. He could no longer accept one cent per pound for potatoes that cost five cents to grow.

The situation had reached the boiling point as the farmers were “faced with some of the worst prices since the depression,” CBC reporter Bob Allison said, later explaining that 1980 was the third year in a row for “financial disaster.”

Report by CBC. Read the full article and watch videos here