High levels of a toxic fungus, brought on by a wet summer, have forced P.E.I. farmers to destroy thousands of hectares of milling wheat.
Milling wheat grown on a large scale is relatively new to the Island. Sixteen thousand hectares were planted this year, but because of the wet summer, much of it has levels of fusarium blight deemed unacceptable by the mills that buy the wheat.
That means instead of harvesting a valuable crop last week, Gordon Waugh was slashing down 120 hectares of milling wheat and leaving it on the ground to rot.
Len McCardle, a member of the board for the P.E.I. Grains Council, said Waugh is far from alone.
"Everybody's lost a lot of money," said McCardle.
"It was quite a surprise when we all went into harvest it and we found it wasn't good for either milling or feed wheat."
McCardle's brother Frank, like Waugh, harvested his wheat and dumped it in worthless piles on his fields. Canadian Food Inspection Agency standards set toxic levels at two parts per million, and one part per million for flour destined to go to baby food. This year, farmers say Dover Mills of Halifax has set the standard of one part per million for all the wheat it is buying.
"It's devastated the entire industry," said McCardle.
"The milling wheat industry was just getting off the ground here, and it was just expanding and the farmers were doing well with it. But the milling wheat industry is basically dead now."
A gamble in everything
The industry was hoping for growth this year, but only about half as much milling wheat has been purchased from Island farmers this year compared to last year.
"Whether its potatoes, beef, hogs or wheat, there is a gamble over everything you do," said Acting Agriculture Minister Wes Sheridan, who plans to meet with Dover Mills on Thursday.
"I'm not expecting miracles over there, but I want to hear their side of the story: how they look to qualify for CFIA restrictions. I know they're under a lot of pressure as well."
Most farmers will be partially covered by crop insurance, enough to cover their costs of production, which is just about half of what they were hoping for from the market place.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has not changed its standards for levels of fusarium blight toxin, as was originally reported.Sep 17, 2009 10:39 AM AT