Potato farmers in export crisis get increased support from federal program
Interim payments increased through AgriStability program
The federal government has made changes to its AgriStability program to increase support for P.E.I. farmers affected by a suspension of trade in fresh potatoes to the United States.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency suspended trade three weeks ago following the discovery of potato wart in two P.E.I. fields in October. It took the action to avoid a U.S.-ordered ban, which could be more difficult to reverse.
On Monday, the federal government announced P.E.I. farmers who did not sign up for the AgriStability program may do so now. It also increased interim payments from 50 per cent of anticipated payouts to 75 per cent.
In a news release, federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said the government is continuing its work to get the border reopened.
"We believe in the science that says the U.S. demands go beyond what is needed to manage risk," said Bibeau.
"In order to resume trade, however, the CFIA must work through the scientific evidence with the U.S. to give them the reassurances needed."
Potato wart disfigures potatoes and makes them unmarketable, but is not a threat to human health. It is considered a serious agricultural pest. The U.S. and Canada have had a management plan for potato wart in place for 20 years, including washing and spraying fresh potatoes with sprout inhibitor to keep potatoes from growing.
With a bumper crop this year, P.E.I. expected to ship about $120 million worth of potatoes to the U.S. this season. With the border closed those potatoes are now sitting in warehouses. Some farmers are saying even if the border opened today there would not be enough trucks to move all the potatoes, and some of what is in those warehouses now will have to be destroyed.
Speaking on Island Morning Tuesday Cardigan MP Lawrence MacAulay, P.E.I.'s representative in the federal cabinet said farmers can expect more support than what is coming from AgriStability.
"That is not enough," said MacAulay.
"Over the years when things happened the federal government stepped up. The federal government will step up again."
MacAulay said it still needs to be determined what the losses are, but he acknowledged at the end of the day farmers will lose money.
With files from Island Morning