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All that’s golden does not glitter

It’s hard to believe that a little, tiny, miniscule bug of the soil can lead


March 24, 2008
By Marg Land


Topics

It’s hard to believe that a little, tiny, miniscule bug of the soil can lead
to international trade restrictions, Ministerial orders, and the destruction of livelihoods.

It’s hard to believe that a little, tiny, miniscule bug of the soil can lead
to international trade restrictions, Ministerial orders, and the destruction of livelihoods.

Back in August 2006, in what Laurent Pellerin of Quebec’s Union des Producteurs Agricoles (UPA) described as “rotten luck,” golden nematode was discovered in a 30-acre field on a farm in the Municipalité régionale de comté de Lajemmerais, located about 20 kilometres east of Montreal. In the past six months, that discovery has led to a federal regulation restricting the movement of soil, machinery, nursery stock, and plant parts with soil within a 12,150-acre area of Saint-Amable. As well, host crops such as potatoes, tomatoes and eggplant can no longer be produced within the area unless authorized by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).

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According to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Minister Chuck Strahl, the regulated area was established as part of a “milestone agreement” between Canada and the U.S. to help keep the border open to Canadian seed potato stock and protect other farmers in Quebec and the rest of Canada from the spread of the pest. What it has resulted in is the premature retirement of about 28 farmers from the business of agriculture, particularly those that serviced export markets.

The federal government has announced an aid package for affected producers, amounting to $5.4 million. This includes $2 million directed through a new Golden Nematode Disaster Program, which will assist producers with the cost of potato disposal, extraordinary costs not covered by existing programs and any expenses related to participating in renewal programs. Another $3.4 million is being made available via payments to producers through the Canadian Agricultural Income Stabilization (CAIS) program and renewal programs.

During a news conference following the announcement, UPA’s Pellerin said he couldn’t see any new money in the announcement. “This is just recycled money that already exists,” he said, adding the funding fails to address the issue of how to deal with the inventory of contaminated potatoes in the province, an estimated loss of $9.1 million for Quebec growers.

Strahl is insistent farmers in the province will receive “their full and fair share of federal assistance.”

Perhaps another way of dealing with this issue might be through the federal government purchasing the affected farmsteads from growers who may have an interest in relocating out of the area. With the current list of production requirements  – including no production of seed potatoes, the removal of all soil from nursery stock roots, bulbs and corms, and the washing of all farm equipment before leaving the area – regular agricultural practices within the restricted zone may be considered too expensive or restrictive to be competitive in today’s market. And with new restrictions now in place on farmland located within the area, the chances of selling the properties for agriculture production and actually receiving a fair market value are rather reduced.

It would seem the fair thing would be to allow the affected Quebec producers the opportunity of leaving the area to set up operations elsewhere in the province, paying them a fair value for their land in return. After all, $5.4 million doesn’t seem to be proper compensation for more than 12,000 acres of productive agricultural property. These 28 producers are taking it on the chin for the rest of Canada’s agricultural producers, through no fault of their own. It was via “rotten” luck the nematode was found in this area. But through their loss and misfortune, other farmers in Quebec and Canada are able to continue with their regular production practices. Proper and fair compensation seems like a small request to make in relation to the hardships faced.