(CHARLOTTETOWN, PE - November 10, 2015) The Prince Edward Island Potato Board is very disappointed by the decision of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries to completely discontinue disinfection services effective December 31st, 2015. The Board was notified of this decision in a phone call late in the afternoon on Monday, November 9th. This decision puts the health of the potato industry in Prince Edward Island at risk.
Contrary to recent comments made by the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, the Board first indirectly heard in August that the Department intended to implement a 200% increase in the fees for disinfection services, rather than last spring. In order to engage the government in dialogue on this important service, a committee of potato growers and packers, Board staff, and government staff was established. Additionally, recommendations were solicited from an expert in plant health.
While a full continuation of disinfection services would ensure the highest standard of plant health protection, the Board recognizes the need to balance the budgetary needs of the Province with the needs of the industry. Dialogue and a review of services indicated that there was an opportunity to eliminate disinfection services for fresh potato shipments, which have a lower risk of disease transmission, while retaining disinfection services for seed shipments, used potato handling equipment sourced from out of province, and on-farm storage disinfections, which carry much higher levels of risk. These recommended changes would have resulted in a significant reduction in the cost of disinfection services; however, these proposed changes were rejected by the government, and no further opportunity for negotiation or discussion was provided prior to the announcement, despite repeated attempts at communication by the Board.
Greg Donald, General Manager of the Prince Edward Island Potato Board, notes that “previously, the Prince Edward Island Potato Board has enjoyed good dialogue and engagement with the Minister and Deputy Minister of Agriculture. It is disappointing to see such a unilateral, and in our view reckless, decision made without attempting to find common ground with representatives of one of the largest economic engines of our province. Our industry is sensitive to the use of taxpayer dollars and identified ways to reduce costs and improve services. Our farmers contribute more than 250 million dollars to the Prince Edward Island economy each year in farm cash receipts, thereby warranting an investment in the health of the industry, as well as the employment created through the provision of disinfection services.”
One of the reasons given to justify the discontinuance of disinfection services has been a lack of recent cases of bacterial ring rot. While Prince Edward Island potato growers have been fortunate to avoid cases of this aggressive potato disease in recent years, bacterial ring rot continues to be detected in other regions of Canada and the United States. In fact, there have been 53 cases of bacterial ring rot detected in seed lots in Canada since 2005. No information is currently available on the number of bacterial ring rot cases on non-seed farms in Canada and the United States. Seed potatoes from these regions regularly come to Prince Edward Island, so preventing the spread of seed-borne disease is vital to a healthy industry. Additionally, disinfection of equipment transporting seed as well as grower storages is valuable at preventing the transmission of other seed-borne bacterial and fungal diseases.
A healthy and viable seed potato sector continues to be a foundation of the Prince Edward Island potato industry. In fact, the seed sector holds some of the highest growth potential in the industry, with significant effort made year over year to increase the volume of seed exported from Prince Edward Island to destinations around the world. 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. In just the last few years, Island seed growers have been faced with increasing costs due to changes in the crop insurance program and increased soil testing costs to meet export market requirements. The additional burden of assuming all disinfection costs will be another negative pressure on the viability of Prince Edward Island seed potato growers.
The Prince Edward Island Potato Board is a producer-controlled organization dedicated to supporting the highest performance of an economically and environmentally sustainable potato industry. For more information on Prince Edward Island Potatoes, please visit our website at www.peipotato.org.