Andy Walker

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A report prepared by the Department of Agriculture and Land has put the price tag of the department's response to COVID-19 at the $17 million mark.

The report contained little in the way of surprises. All of the programs had previously been announced and most of the programs came in at budget or below. In some cases, the programs were designed to meet specific needs within a sector (the two initiatives geared to the hog industry come to mind) while other were extensions or enhancements of existing programs.

The most controversial initiative was a $4.7 million plan administered by the PEI Potato Board to help Cavendish Farms with the storage and shipping costs for processing potatoes it was unable to sell during the early days of the pandemic. In the end, just over $1.1 million of the program was used as the market did rebound.

With the benefit of hindsight, there is little doubt Cavendish Farms could probably have absorbed the loss as the market downturn was not as sharp or prolonged as many had expected. However, supporters of the measure point out that was not know when the program was established-- markets were in freefall not only in PEI but across the world and many growers in other areas sustained heavy losses when they were either forced to cut back acreage just days before planting or were unable to sell all of the spuds they planted. Like it or not, the program largely had the desired impact and there were no major losses for Island processing growers.

Still with potatoes, the crop in PEI was looking good and producers were hoping Tropical Storm Elsa (which was bearing down on the province as this issue went to press) would cause little damage to the crop. In a report to the industry on July 7, Ryan Barrett of the PEI Potato Board noted "the Soiltech sensors that I have placed in two different fields in Central PEI are all reading between 25 and 28% volumetric soil moisture at the root zone, which is great." He also noted all of the tests for late blight have come back negative-- a trend that will hopefully continue for the rest of the season.

As Kevin MacIsaac of United Potato Growers of Canada points out, that situation is not the case across the country. While there are some dry areas throughout eastern Canada (every grower no matter what the commodity knows rain never falls uniformly no matter what the forecasters say), the situation is critical in the Prairies.

Finally, a shout-out to the PEI Women's Institute for running the profiles periodically prepared by Ag In the Field-- the social media effort profiling people in the industry began by Carleigh MacLeod and Jillian Ferguson as a high school project they have thankfully continued as they begin their post-secondary studies. There is no such thing as too much promotion and seeing the Women's Institute come on board to help spreads the message is welcome.

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