Canadians Given $5 Bailout Offer

Published online: Jan 12, 2001
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Potato growers on Prince Edward Island are to be paid $5/cwt in a government diversion program designed to remove three million cwt.

The PEI province-run program will take surplus potatoes into the fields for fertilizer and also give to food banks to help soften the blow of the U.S. border blockade because of the recently discovered potato wart fungus.

PEI potato officials are also appealing to the federal government for help. Directors of the Potato Board, Potato Producers Association, Potato Processing Council, Seed Potato Growers Association and the PEI Potato Dealers Association were represented in a trip to Ottawa.

The province diversion program will begin immediately with the $5 awaiting growers willing to take out 10 percent of their registered acreage. Registration forms will be sent out next week. Deadline for registration will be Jan. 26.

Mitch Murphy, director of agriculture for PEI, said the action will get some product to market and will maintain minimum price. It's believed most growers agreed this was the first step.

Ivan Noonan, Potato Board general manager, said, "We're short about 2.4 million cwt so far in our shipments and about 3 million cwt by the end of January. This will provide cash-flow for farmers."

Federal Ag Minister Lyle Vanclief, out of the country, is expected to also suggest the federal purchase plan for both food banks and fertilizer.

Noonan said, "Our shipments of 2,643 trailer loads are down 50 percent from the same period last year, about $25 million. The diversion program could cost up to $15 million."

Rory McAlpine, head of Ag Canada's International Trade Policy Directorate, said, "The U.S. achieved virtually what it set out to do as soon as it banned importation of PEI potatoes. Unfortunately when they closed the border Oct. 31, the Thanksgiving and Christmas markets were lost. This is their normal peak marketing period."

Canadian officials say that Idaho and Washington overproduced by 30 million cwt. PEI produced 29.6 million cwt total.

Canada is expected to take the issue before NAFTA. But this could take months. McAlpine said the market for PEI was dead 10 weeks ago when the border was closed. It was also pointed out that the ban had intimidated other provinces and stalled up to 60 percent of the movement within domestic markets.