P.E.I. government axes potato disinfection services

Colin MacLean
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The Prince Edward Island government has decided to cut the Provincial Potato Disinfection Service after more than 30 years.

Service of some 30 years aimed at bacterial ring rot will stop the end of this year.

SUMMERSIDE – The Prince Edward Island government is cutting funding to provincially-funded potato disinfection service.

The move is expected to impact one full-time job, which is being transferred within the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, and several part-time and seasonal positions that will most likely be lost.

The disinfection service has been in place for more than 30 years, spraying potato transport trucks arriving on P.E.I., local machinery and warehouses, for a disease called bacterial ring rot, which can be devastating for potato crops.

The news was shocking to Kinkora-area potato grower Greg McKenna of Country View Farms.

“I personally think it’s a service that’s seriously needed,” said McKenna.

“Just for safety and security. We’ve been fortunate here that we haven’t had bacterial ring rot for quite some time …  but if we have tractor trailers coming in here, and they came from other potato producing areas, and if they’re contaminated with a disease, and they’re not cleaned and disinfected properly – those diseases can come here.”

Agriculture Minister Alan McIsaac is expected to appear before the province’s standing committee on agriculture and fisheries Tuesday to answer questions about the cuts.

Speaking Monday evening, McIsaac said his department has been working since the spring with the P.E.I. Potato Board to come up with a more equal cost sharing agreement to keep the disinfection service open, but they were not able to reach a compromise.  

“We’re the only province in Canada that was doing this for their potato industry and we’re not doing it for any other commodity,” said McIsaac.

“So we were willing to carry on paying part of it, but not all of it to the extent at which we were.”

According to figures provided by the department of agriculture, the disinfection service cost roughly $500,000 annually, most of that coming from taxpayers.

The potato industry also contributed by paying a $10-per-truck-sprayed fee for the service, but that accounted for less than half of the actual costs; it brought in about $127,000 in 2014/2015.

Adding to the department’s decision is the relative rarity of the disease the program is meant to resist. The Canadian Food InspectionAgency reports five cases of bacterial ring rot since 2008 in all of Canada.

The province will continue to provide assistance to farmers who find themselves dealing with an outbreak of disease and has funding available should individual farms want to spray against bacterial ring rot on their own initiative.

However, the move to discontinue the service is not sitting well with McIsaac’s Liberal colleague Rob Henderson, MLA for O’Leary-Inverness.

Henderson’s riding is in one of the heaviest potato producing areas of the province and he said Monday he’s concerned what this cut will mean for his constituents.

“Our number-one industry and commodity is the potato itself, so if contagions or pathogens get spread just because we’re not on top of these things … there are dire ramifications that could be had,” said Henderson.

“I would hope that the government and the minister would revisit this situation and try to come up with a solution that’s workable for all.”

The two men will have a chance to discuss the matter Tuesday as Henderson chairs the standing committee on agriculture.

Organizations: TC Media

Geographic location: Prince Edward Island, Borden-Carleton, Montague Charlottetown

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Recent comments

  • Liberal
    November 10, 2015 - 16:06

    Finally an end to these conservative patronage jobs. Thank god for some brains at the top of our government for eliminating this waste. You rock Wade!

  • Spare Me
    November 09, 2015 - 21:39

    Spare us all of your whiney little rants. This is a cost that should be taken on by the industry, NOT the tax payer. Good for McLauchlan for doing this.

  • OK
    November 09, 2015 - 21:33

    Five cases in Canada since 2008 and $500,000/year cost. Doesn't sound like good use of "taxpayers" money especially with other commodities looking after themselves.

    • My Questions
      My Questions
      November 10, 2015 - 15:25

      Misinformation re the # of cases - wonder why?, and they forgot to mention 15 - 20 jobs. Do the math on getting those folks enough weeks of productive work and therefore qualifying for EI...pretty good investment of tax payers dollars. The potato industry contributes hundreds of millions of dollars to the economy each year, and pays for most of the expenses themselves, so while this sounds like a lot of money, the amount of taxpayers dollars for the farmers overall is low.

  • Crapaud resident
    November 09, 2015 - 20:18

    And most of these jobs are in the Borden district--- and Jamie Fox just got re-elected. Congrats Jamie! Now you have some ammo. The Potato industry to police itself, yeah right. Bet the Liberals won't find anyone to run in District 19 next time.

  • Somebody Leaked This
    November 09, 2015 - 18:54

    With all the secret cuts and firings in the past 3 months, somebody must have leaked this. With our new whistle blower legislation, people should be allowed to speak there mind but that was just a LiberaL Guardian announcement. "If I find out who is putting out information, not even your grandchildren will work for the province!" Sound familiar Mr Premier??? The Guardian will advise you who wrote this.

  • Concerned
    November 09, 2015 - 18:48

    One of my parents has been doing this job for years and are always busy. I hope they have jobs for these people.

    • david
      November 09, 2015 - 21:54

      Maybe your parent like other people who have also lost their jobs can get out and find themselves a new job.

  • Mr. Grumpy Pants
    November 09, 2015 - 18:16

    Great move! Don't get me wrong, I'm all for supporting industry in times of crisis, when certain mechanisms don't exist or costs are prohibitive. I get very grumpy when governments continue to deliver the service long after industry is more than able to go it on its own. This is a cost that should be borne by the market and not the taxpayer!!

  • Taxpayer Joe
    November 09, 2015 - 18:02

    You know what.......I've been labeled a Tory my whole life and I truly believe that Wade MacLaughlan is the most conservative Liberal that has ever been elected premier of any province in Canada......There are so government services that need to be done away with or privatized that it is not even funny anymore.......If Wade keeps on axing where its needed....I just might vote Liberal in the next election for the first time in my 52 year life.

  • Laurent Beaulieu
    November 09, 2015 - 17:53

    I agree with the Premier, if you want such a service you have to pay fully for it. There is no Free lunch folks. Pay or loose it.

  • Fed up
    November 09, 2015 - 17:30

    That's it, Wade....hit on the farmers!!

    • SlyFox
      November 09, 2015 - 18:40

      If the budget is to be balanced there has to be cuts made and this is one of them.Only 34.5 millions more dollars to find.Who or what is next?

    • My Questions
      My Questions
      November 09, 2015 - 20:42

      To SlyFox: I think the provincial government already released information before that said the deficit was lower than expected because of a $1 million surplus that they were able to take out of the crop insurance program. That was money contributed by farmers, provincial and federal governments. This is another hit on farmers - one case of bacterial ring rot can cost a farm and the industry overall much more than $300,000 that the government was paying. Why not ask the farmers to pay more instead of eliminating the program? Short-sighted. Hope it can be reversed.

    • Really?
      November 10, 2015 - 08:14

      try the 100's of Patronage consultants around the province. Don't have th einfo to say if this program should be cut or not but start at the bottom dwellers left over by the PC's and the newest by the Liberals.