Strawberry farmers in N.S. insulted by virus loan
Destructive strawberry virus reduces berry size
The Nova Scotia government says strawberry farmers will be able to access up to $2 million in government money in the wake of a virus that forced some producers to destroy their crops, but growers say it doesn’t go far enough to fix the problem.
Agriculture Minister John MacDonell said farmers will get interest-free loans they can use to help replant. They'll have to repay the loan after the berries are harvested.
Some of the money will come from existing federal programs, the rest from the province.
Farmers can access $100,000 interest free and the province will cover interest on further loans, up to a total of $400,000.
The Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture says it is disappointed the government is offering loans instead of helping combat the virus.
"It's almost an insult. To an industry this size, a $20 million industry. It's almost an insult,’’ said grower Curtis Millen.
The destructive virus — the result of two known viruses combining into a new, complex form — are spread by the strawberry aphid. The strawberry aphid is a small, soft bodied insect that siphons plant sap.
The virus weakens plants to the point where the berries themselves are undesirably small, or the plant fails to produce berries altogether.
In June, MacDonnell said at least 40 per cent of Nova Scotia's strawberry industry, a sector worth about $18 million annually, was damaged by the insect-borne virus.
Millen said he tore up about 70 per cent of his Great Village farm in the spring, a loss of about $2.5 million.
The industry asked for $4.5 million to form an incentive program.
"We need some kind of a program, an incentive for all producers to get rid of their virus infected plants, so it can't be spread into our nurseries, into our fruiting fields. Unless we clean this whole thing up in one whack, we're going to be right back where we [were]," said Millen.
"We need to get rid of the virus. They don’t seem to understand that’s the problem."
MacDonnell said the province doesn't have $4.5 million. He also said farmers could have used government programs like crop insurance, but many didn’t take advantage of the programs.
"I don't know if it's because of the election, if it's a little promise, I don't know what it is. But it's not the answer," Millen said.
The province estimates the new program will cost taxpayers about $100,000.