P.E.I. Potato Board calls truck disinfection discontinuation 'reckless'

The P.E.I. Potato Board is calling the province's discontinuation of truck disinfection services "reckless."

Province's move puts 'industry at risk' says board's general manager

Mitch MacDonald sprays down the inside of a truck heading to a potato farm near Souris. (CBC)

The P.E.I. Potato Board is calling the province's discontinuation of truck disinfection services "reckless."

Under the program, trucks carrying potatoes are sprayed to help prevent the highly infectious disease bacterial ring rot.

On Monday, the P.E.I. government announced it will close the disinfection station in Borden-Carleton and remove mobile units by Dec. 31, citing budgetary and scientific reasons.

Greg Donald, P.E.I. Potato Board general manager, says the government's move puts the industry at risk. (CBC)
The board was "concerned and quite surprised by the news," said general manager Greg Donald.

"I'm going to call it a reckless decision that puts our industry at risk," he said.

The program was very successful in minimizing the potential spread of disease from commercial vehicles and equipment, he said.

Donald said the board first heard, through the Island's trucking industry in August, that the government was considering changing the program, including increasing per-truck disinfection fees by 200 per cent.

'Another hit to rural P.E.I.'

Since that time, they have had meetings with the province and put forward a proposal "that addressed the budgetary needs to reduce costs and still provided what is necessary from a plant-health perspective," he said.

"We have always had a very open, productive communication with the Department of Agriculture and since we have a new minister and a new deputy minister, that appears to have changed," said Donald. "So we are just again, very concerned that this decision is without a plan in place and it really puts our industry at risk."

Opposition agriculture critic Colin LaVie says 'this is a major cut to farmers.' (Legislative Assembly of P.E.I.)
The board will continue to ask the province to reconsider its decision, and regardless of the province's role, it will be committed to minimize introduction and spread of disease and to ensure integrity of the seed that is sold around the world.

The province's Opposition agriculture critic Colin Lavie calls it yet another cut to front-line services in the province.

"This seems to be a going move for this government. It is another hit to rural P.E.I. for sure. We are just worried. Like, this is a major cut to farmers. Major, major, major."

Lavie says the Opposition will be demanding answers from government about this decision.

Meanwhile, in a news release, the National Farmers Union said it's calling for the province to reinstate the disinfection program.

It said that P.E.I. has "worked very hard" to eradicate bacterial ring rot and now isn't the time to "cut such an essential program."