Island strawberry growers have begun work to prevent further spread of a virus that has infected the fields of two P.E.I. strawberry farmers.
The virus attacking Island strawberry crops is the same virus threatening Nova Scotia’s $17-million strawberry industry.
'I've never seen anything of this magnitude.' —Ronnie MacInnis, P.E.I. strawberry grower
The culprit responsible for the damage is an insect-borne plant illness.
The new virus — the result of two known viruses combining into a new 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.
Strawberry growers were briefed about the situation at a meeting Wednesday evening.
"I've been at it all my life and I've never seen anything of this magnitude," said Ronnie MacInnis of MacInnis Brother's Farms.
The provincial government revealed its plan of action to growers Wednesday.
The Department of Agriculture will sample as many fields as they can to find out the extent of the virus.
But it's an expensive process at $300 per sample.
"Growers may choose to let their fields go, in terms of harvesting them this year, and then after that put them down, potentially — depending on how bad the virus levels are," said Chris Jordan, a berry crop development officer.
"There is no cure, the only option is eradication of the plant and/or the stand it’s in."
That means plowing under crops or pulling out infected plants. With $6,000 invested in every acre, it could be an expensive solution.
"It's not only your immediate crop for this year, but how do you manage it down the road in the next two to three years?" said MacInnis.
Arnie Nabours, president of the P.E.I. Strawberry Growers Association, is one of the farmers affected by the pest.
He said he expects to begin spraying his fields soon to kill the aphids and prevent the spread of the virus.
"So it's a matter of learning what the life cycle of this little insect is, when they are most vulnerable and putting on effective treatments to both control the presence of these aphids and the population levels of these aphids as well as protecting the uninfected plants that we have in our fields," he said. Nabours said there will be Island strawberries this summer but maybe not as many as usual.
"This isn't the first time we've faced challenges and we're still here and I'm sure that this will be no different," he said.
It’s still not clear exactly how many fields are infected. The provinces hopes to have more answers later this month.