Cuts to disinfection program blindsides P.E.I. Potato Board

Colin MacLean
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FILE PHOTO: P.E.I. potatoes.

Island potato growers say cut of $500,000-a-year service is a threat to the sector’s future

The end of a subsidy that provides disinfectant services to Island potato growers is a threat to the sector’s future, an industry spokesman says.

“At least in terms of our seed potatoes, is very reckless,” said Greg Donald, general manager of the Prince Edward Island Potato Board. “It puts our whole industry at risk and it’s dangerous.”

Donald found out Monday that as of Dec. 31, the province will be cutting funding to a 30-year-old disinfection service aimed at controlling a virulent disease called potato ring rot.

The news blindsided Island potato growers, said Donald, and until they got the call informing them of the cuts, the board was under the impression that they and the province were working together to come up with a compromise to save it.

“We’ve always had a good relationship with the department of agriculture, in engaging, working together and coming together to meet challenges – but on this one we have a new minister and new deputy minister and it’s different,” said Donald.

The $500,000-a-year potato disinfection service is operated by one full-time employee and several part-time and seasonal workers.  It is based in Borden-Carleton with mobile units in other Island communities.

Most of the program is paid for by taxpayers, but the industry has contributed with a $10-per-truck fee since 1997. However, that fee pays for less than half of the total cost of the program.

In the 2015 budget, the province proposed increasing the fee to try to make up for the shortfall. The potato industry asked to find an alternative and the two sides struck a committee in August to examine the issue.

After consulting with an expert on potato diseases, the potato board suggested that disinfection services for table potatoes and the equipment that works with/transports them could be cut, if it meant saving funding to disinfect the Island’s seed potato crop, which is more susceptible to ring rot.

Donald said that’s the last the board heard from the province until the cuts were announced.

“For all we knew, the $10 … was full cost recovery. We didn’t even know (the program) was losing money. We weren’t made aware of that … I was told I couldn’t’ have access to that,” said Donald.

It’s disappointing to an industry that is tremendously important to the Island’s economy, he added.

 “The implications of this are huge.”

“We’ve been fortunate here that we haven’t had bacterial ring rot for several years. But I think that’s not good luck, it’s good management.”

Donald said he and the board are willing to sit back down with the province to discuss the issue and they’d like to see the cuts reversed.

Agriculture Minister Alan McIsaac said Monday that the province will continue to offer resources to farmers that find themselves facing outbreaks of disease and there is funding available for farms who want to continue to spray for ring rot on their own initiative.

McIsaac was scheduled to speak with the legislature’s standing committee on agriculture Tuesday afternoon and was expected to face questions about the cuts.

Organizations: P.E.I. Potato Board, Prince Edward Island Potato Board

Geographic location: Iceland, Borden-Carleton

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Recent comments

  • Not alone
    November 11, 2015 - 18:34

    I am glad to see most agree that the potato industry should be paying their own way on this and hopefully someday they will be fully self reliant including paying for any and all harm to the environment.

  • not on my dime
    November 11, 2015 - 17:45

    I am tired of the potato industry in all its forms expecting handouts from the taxpayers. The Irvings get loans at the drop of a hat. Now the farmers are griping because disinfecting their stock will no longer be paid out of the taxpayer's pocket. If you can't make a go of it as a business without handouts, look for other ways to do things.

  • Quiet Observer
    November 11, 2015 - 07:34

    Funny, I hear people complaining about government offering services to an agricultural sector. I wonder are these the same people who complain about the price of milk paid to farmers (which is about 1/3 of what you pay in the store). The dairy industry survives with no government money because farmers are paid a fair price for their product and pay for all services (lab testing, etc) government provides. Which way do people want it?

  • no thanks
    November 11, 2015 - 03:05

    potato farmers are gamblers or managers for big corporations---

  • Cavendish Beach
    November 11, 2015 - 01:42

    Hey Island farmers, We need the 500k to pay for the new acts coming to the music festival this summer in cavendish. Please PEI, lets get your priorities straight!

  • de udder guy
    November 10, 2015 - 21:10

    Funny how farmers who claim they can't get workers because of EI and welfare are only too happy to receive scads of money from the government to subsidize their own businesses....corporate....welfare.

  • Not a Proud Islander
    November 10, 2015 - 20:14

    Ok, maybe the Potato Industry should by now be paying for this service. I do agree, but don,t think this takes the heat off our Liberal and Conservative Governments and their Party Hacks that have received Millions in monies and loan write offs that the taxpayers are having to pay for . The heat is only starting Wade. Trust me . You wanted this bed of scams and lies, now you lie in it.

  • Argonaut1
    November 10, 2015 - 19:16

    If the farmers think it is that vital, pay for it. Taxpayers do not have to foot the bill for every program that is deemed vital. This is an O&M line item on the expense ledger.

  • BS
    November 10, 2015 - 18:52

    Total BS. If it's true then it's time for the industry to die. We do not need industries that rely on tax payer welfare to keep them alive. If you can't afford to produce potatoes then GET OUT OF THE BUSINESS.

    • Bogeyman
      November 10, 2015 - 22:40

      Reality is that the whole disinfection serve was a program for mla's to get weeks for their constituents. The province won't save one red cent cause these employees will have to be picked up in other departments to get their hours to qualify for EI. So maybe some will believe that this was farmer welfare, the reality is that it was a program to keep many low income islanders off welfare. Of course it's funnier to believe that fish killing, pesticide lov'n, deep well lobbing farmers were scamming the tax payer.