PEI potato growers say post-Fiona damage added expense during busy harvest

It’s been nearly three weeks since post-tropical storm Fiona hit Prince Edward Island, and potato growers on the island say the extra work of cleaning up downed trees, debris and damage to their properties came at a difficult time.

It’s now the middle of the harvest season and while the weather is helping farmers get their crop out of the ground, the cleanup after Fiona has slowed the process down.

“A lot of trees have fallen. We moved more trees this fall than I have in the last 42 years of my operation,” said John Visser, owner of Victoria Potato Farm and chair of the PEI Potato Board.

« And in a potato field, before harvest, the trees have to be moved. It’s an added expense at a time of year when time is a very short commodity. »

Island potato growers say the harvest is well underway, but the extra costs and labor needed to deal with damage from post-tropical storm Fiona is making this a difficult year. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

Visser said his staff are mobilizing to complete the harvest and the current weather conditions are favourable.

He said it’s a race against temperature changes, and there’s already been frost on the ground some mornings, meaning his team has to wait for the ground to warm up to start harvesting.

« There were a few frost delays but other than that the weather was very good once it dried off from Fiona. »

Fiona has also harmed the welfare of many potato growers. Visser said each year brings a new challenge, from the 2018 drought to the potato export ban linked to the detection of potato warts in fields across the island. Prince Edward Island in 2021.

« It just adds more stress to a stressful lifestyle, but you know that’s what we’re doing. »

Favorable harvest conditions

Visser isn’t the only farmer facing post-Fiona expenses.

“We had at least three potato warehouses whose roofs were completely blown off. We had a packing shed that lost the wall,” said Greg Donald, general manager of the PEI Potato Board.

He said there are still potato storage locations that do not have electricity and farmers have been trying to find other storage options. Many of those who have electricity have lent generators to help them.

john visser
“A lot of trees have fallen. We moved more trees this fall than in 42 years of farming,” said John Visser, owner of Victoria Potato Farm. (Aaron Adetuyi/CBC)

“It’s out of our control, but since Fiona the weather has been great so the harvest has been able to progress in a timely manner.

He said about half of the island’s potatoes have been harvested, which is a good place to be at this stage of the season.

Federal support available

Federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau, who was on the island on Thursday to speak with farmers, said there will be financial support for all farmers who have suffered losses.

Bibeau said a number of federal programs are available to provide financial support. Producers are encouraged to apply for interim payments under the federal government’s AgriStability program to help them deal with immediate financial challenges.

“It is for all the farmers who have been affected by Fiona, so you can see damage to crops or animals and also to infrastructure of course,” said Bibeau, adding that the expenses related to the removal of fallen trees and debris will also be eligible.

« We want to help them build back better. »

Bibeau said the goal is to help farmers adapt to climate change, which Donald said is also on the minds of many in PEI.

« We’re going to have more, unfortunately, extreme weather events like we’ve had, and how can we do that, to be successful in the future, » Donald said.


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