PEI

Greens ask P.E.I. to take fields where potato wart has been found out of production permanently

The Official Opposition is calling on the province to take the fields where potato wart has been found on P.E.I. out of potato production — permanently.

Province says they want to hear from U.S. first before making such move

Currently, fields where potato wart has been found can be replanted with wart-resistant potato varieties after five years have passed. (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC)

The Official Opposition is calling on the province to take the fields where potato wart has been found on P.E.I. out of potato production — permanently.

Peter Bevan-Baker says the move would help contain any future spread of the fungus and reassure buyers of Island potatoes.

The Green Party leader made the comment in the legislature Tuesday, three months after the CFIA imposed a ban on exporting P.E.I. table-stock potatoes to the United States over the wart issue. 

"This province has absolute jurisdiction over land use," Bevan-Baker said. "We can choose to take those fields out of production — obviously compensate the farmers appropriately. "

Currently, fields where potato wart has been found can be replanted with wart-resistant potato varieties after five years have passed.

Since 2000, there have been 33 detections of potato wart on Prince Edward Island, according to the Canada Food Inspection Agency. "The latest detections in October 2021 represent the largest area and highest number of associated fields," said the CFIA website. "This increase required the strongest action to date against the further spread of potato wart off P.E.I."

The CFIA confirmed last fall that the fungus was found in the two fields that have a combined area of approximately 20 hectares. The agency didn't indicate where the farm is located, other than specifying it was in Queens County.

Province wants to hear from U.S. first

Agriculture Minister Bloyce Thompson said he agrees such land parcels should be taken out of production permanently. 

But he said he wants to hear from federal authorities in the U.S. before making any changes.

"We have no problem doing it, but we want to wait to see what they say because they could say, 'Well, that's great. But we want you to do that, this, this and this,'" he said.

"[After] we know what their demands are, then we can go above and beyond if we have to."

He said the province could move to make the change before the coming growing season, but he didn't commit to doing that.

Thompson did tell the legislature: "We will not stop until we get our farmers back to what they know and love: farming."

Bevan-Baker said the aid programs brought in by Dennis King's government have been "enormously helpful," but added: "The biggest problem here is that we have lost control of the biggest element of our province's economy."

Liberal MLA Robert Henderson, noting that he himself once grew seed potatoes, said the crisis has had "an indelible negative impact on our potato industry."

He said that 180 growers account for 85,000 acres of potatoes on P.E.I., with 10 per cent of the Island's potato acreage in seed-potato production.

"Land management certainly needs to be figured out… That definitely has to happen," Henderson told the legislature. 

With files from Kerry Campbell

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