Former seed farm manager says P.E.I. should maintain disinfection program

Eric McCarthy newsroom@journalpioneer.com
Published on November 24, 2015

potato field

ALBERTON - A former manager of the P.E.I. Elite Seed Potato Farm says he’s been hearing there have been no outbreaks of bacterial ring rot in Island potatoes in five years.

“That’s a good news story,” says Allan Parker, who managed the seed farm until 1997 and is still involved in the potato industry internationally.

But, to Parker, the good news story is tempered by the provincial government’s decision to discontinue its potato disinfection services by year’s end.

He suggests it’s time for industry and government to take a step back and consider how best to protect the industry, not just from bacterial ring rot but also new strains of old bacterial diseases that have re-emerged in Europe in recent years.

“If they ever got a foothold in North America they would be extremely problematic for any seed production area,” he warned.

RELATED: P.E.I. government axes potato disinfection services

The P.E.I. Potato Board is critical of the provincial government’s decision.

“Prince Edward Island has long held a well-earned reputation for high quality potato seed which could be jeopardized by this decision to completely eliminate disinfection services,” the board advised.

The board resists having the industry take over the entire cost of disinfection, suggesting it would affect the viability of seed potato growers.

“It’s time they took a look at the bigger picture and identified the potential, and real threats as well, and then sort out what’s the best way to approach the whole thing and get value for money,” Parker said.

The Progressive Conservative opposition criticized the government’s decision, suggesting it will weaken the Island’s food safety system.

Parker suggested the P.E.I potato industry’s success in dealing with bacterial ring rot might provide an opportunity for the industry to re-enter some of its past seed potato markets in eastern and western Europe.

He recalls that P.E.I. used to enjoy active seed export markets in places like Portugal, Italy and Spain.

“Freedom from ring rot would be an important part of that,” he said, adding the Island would have a better chance of making those inroads if it maintains its disinfection program.