Canadá: P.E.I. potato seed growers offered cash to grow soil-building crops this season
New $3 million program designed to support seed producers currently unable to export
A new $3 million program is offering seed growers on P.E.I. cash to grow alternative crops this season while they are unable to export their potatoes.
While the export of fresh potatoes was allowed to resume in April, seed growers are not allowed to ship to the United States, and can only sell domestically if they meet strict conditions set by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
The federal agriculture minister has said there will be no exports of Island seed potatoes until at least 2023.
The agency has said seed potatoes carry a greater risk of spreading potato wart because they are not washed and sprout inhibited, the way table stock potatoes are before shipping.
P.E.I. Agriculture Minister Bloyce Thompson says he hopes the new program gives seed producers time to decide what they want to do going forward. (Bloyce Thompson/Twitter)
To qualify for the Soil Building for Seed Producers Project, growers need to demonstrate they have lost seed potato sales as a result of potato wart.
Growers also have to reduce their 2022 seed potato acres by at least 10 per cent compared to 2021, and not substitute seed acres with table or processing potatoes.
P.E.I. Agriculture Minister Bloyce Thompson said the new program aligns with the province’s goal of improving soil health, through a strategy called soil first farming.
Thompson says many of the crops also sequester carbon, as an added benefit. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)
"It’s soil-building crops, anything that will enhance the organic matter in their soil and improve their rotations," Thompson said.
"It provides some time to decide what they want to do going forward, and it gives them the ability to improve their soil at the same time."
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’Gives them a year’
Growers can also apply for funding for perennial crops that they extend for another season, instead of planting seed potatoes. Eligible fields would only qualify if they planted crops such as timothy, clover, alfalfa, in the previous year.
Thompson said growers can also opt to plant cash crops, but those won’t qualify for the program.
Growers can also opt to plant cash crops such as cereals, oilseeds or corn but those won’t qualify for the program. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)
"It’s one or the other. So this way, it incentivizes them. If it wasn’t an easy fix to go cash crops, then this gives them a year to decide what path they want to go," Thompson said.
"It’s $1,000 per acre which gives a good, significant payment to really take the financial worry out of it."
Thompson said many of the crops also sequester carbon, as an added benefit.
The P.E.I. Potato Board, as well as some seed producers, were involved in creating the new program.
"We need to sustain those seed farms, and this program will provide an opportunity for them to cover some of the costs that are lost, some of their fixed costs, with not being able to sell off the Island," said board general manager Greg Donald.
"That’s most important, is to sustain those seed farms, but at the same time get other benefits as well."
Donald says the timing of the new program may limit how many growers are able to take part. (Shane Hennessey/CBC )
Donald described the crops eligible for the program as "green manure" crops, such as sorghum sudangrass and pearl millet.
Donald said there would be costs to prepare the land and plant the crops, which would be covered by the $1,000 per acre from the program as well as some help with fixed costs connected to seed production.
"It’ll certainly be a help," he said.
Planting decisions made
Donald said the timing of the new program may limit how many growers are able to take part.
"Decisions may have already been made and also plans since last fall, so, for some, the timing may not be ideal as well — but it’s certainly welcome news," Donald said.
"It was just announced so we haven’t had a lot of feedback, although some of our seed producers did have input into it. I think it’s favourable, but they’re looking into it and seeing how it will work on their farm."
Bloyce Thompson says ’It’s soil-building crops, anything that will enhance the organic matter in their soil and improve their rotation.’ (Shane Hennessey/CBC)
Donald said seed producers will be making very careful decisions on what they plant this season, especially with the high costs of fuel and fertilizer.
He said some producers will replace their seed acres with potatoes grown for the table market or processing, or with cash crops such as cereals, oilseeds or corn.
The P.E.I. agriculture minister said he hopes the new program will help Island seed growers make it through this season, while CFIA continues to collect the 35,000 plus soil samples needed to make the case for allowing the export of seed potatoes to resume.
"Seed growing is kind of a niche market. It’s not something that they can change easily," Thompson said.
"I’d like to see them stay in the industry, but they have to make that business decision for themselves, and this gives them an opportunity to take their time on that business decision."