(Aug. 28) The presence of a potentially devastating pest in potato fields in Quebec has halted spud exports from the province to the U.S.

On Aug. 16, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service announced it was prohibiting exports from Quebec because golden nematodes had been found on farms in the province. It’s unknown how long the ban will last, said Jim Rogers, an APHIS spokesman.

Agency officials are working closely with Canadian officials to try to narrow the ban to only those regions of Quebec affected by the pests, Rogers said. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency confirmed Aug. 15 that golden nematodes had been found in a 30-acre field on a farm east of Montreal.

He added there is a chance golden nematodes could have made their way into the U.S. before the ban went into effect, but he said APHIS was confident that once the ban took effect, no infected potatoes would cross the border.

Golden nematodes also can damage tomatoes and eggplants, Rogers said. The pests pose no health risk to humans, but they can produce major crop losses.

To prevent the spread of nematodes to the U.S., APHIS officials are prohibiting potatoes for seed, consumption and processing from Quebec, Rogers said.

The U.S. also is requiring that other items imported to the U.S. that present a risk of spreading the pest — including mechanical cultivating and harvesting equipment — be free of dirt before they cross the border.

This is the first incidence of golden nematodes in Canada, said Heather Holland, senior technical manager for food safety and government relations for the Canadian Produce Marketing Association, Ottawa. She also was unsure how long the ban would last, but she was optimistic.

“We think it’s being handled well, and hopefully it will be short-lived,” she said.

About 10% of Quebec’s potatoes are exported to the U.S., with the bulk going to New York, Holland said. The ban would likely have more of an effect on Canadian growers, who will have to find domestic buyers for the extra spuds, she said. She said buyers in the U.S. likely could fill any supply gaps from other growing regions in the U.S. and Canada.