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Soil health key issue at agriculture leaders' forum

P.E.I.'s four party leaders addressed how they would improve soil health in the province at a debate sponsored by the P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture Wednesday evening.

Crop rotation options questioned

The four leaders faced questions from climate change to labour shortages. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC)

P.E.I.'s four party leaders addressed how they would improve soil health in the province at a debate sponsored by the P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture Wednesday evening. 

The debate was one of several this week as the province approaches the April 23 election date.

The four party leaders faced questions in front of a packed crowd, ranging from labour shortages to land use, and several around sustainability and how climate change is affecting farming.

Soil health, for both traditional and organic farms, emerged as a central issue.

Crop rotation key

Two of the leaders pointed to crop rotation as an important factor.

Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker wants a review of the Agricultural  Crop Rotation Act,

"We also need to look at the suitability of certain crops to be used in crop rotation with potatoes," said Bevan-Baker.

"I'm thinking specifically of corn and soy. Currently they aren't considered as row crops, but there are some people who think that maybe they should be. And if that was the case, we cannot use them as we currently do in three-year rotations."

 Bevan-Baker added there could be opportunities in new rotational crops, something Progressive Conservative Leader Dennis King supported.

More than 150 people attended the debate. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC )

"Maybe there are seeds that we can grow that we can ship to other places in the world and add the plants into the organic matter in the soil," King said 

"Fifteen per cent of the Canadian population, I'm told, is vegan. They're getting their protein from plant based foods. What can we do here on Prince Edward Island to capitalize on that growing market?"

Setting targets

NDP Leader Joe Byrne said the province needs to determine more precisely what it means by soil health, find ways to measure it, and set targets.

"Once you figure out what the target is, and then you identify where you're starting from, then you track the path to get there," Byrne said.

"There has to be some cost and benefits into this process. When farms are hitting those organic targets then what's the benefit of doing that, besides the natural one that might come from increased yields and better prices."

Liberal Leader Wade MacLauchlan pointed to programs that he said are already working, such as the Agriculture Stewardship Program and the Nutrient Management Program, and said a new Liberal government would continue to support them. He also said support for the beef plant is important.

"That is a great opportunity for our province and our farming community to grow our livestock sector and to produce manure that can help to enrich our soil nutrients," said MacLauchlan.

The leaders will face off again Thursday morning at a debate on women's issues at 10 a.m. in the Florence Simmons Performance Hall.  

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About the Author

Natalia Goodwin

Video Journalist

Natalia is a video journalist in P.E.I. She has also worked for CBC N.L.

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