By Kirk Starratt
It’s a good start, but will it be enough?
That was the reaction of Cambridge strawberry producer Greg Webster to a Dec. 6 federal and provincial funding announcement. The two governments say they will provide up to $2.3 million to strawberry producers to remove diseased plants infected with a virus complex and replace them with healthy ones.
Webster said it isn’t a cheap problem to correct. Webster Farms usually harvests 22 to 24 acres of strawberries every year. In 2013, he was only able to harvest 10 as a result of the virus complex commonly referred to as the strawberry aphid virus. Webster’s removed 13 acres before harvest this year.
“We knew there was some virus in the first-year field but they were good enough to pick,” Webster said. However, the virus level was high enough the decision was made to plow some of those plants under as well. Webster’s will have only 14 acres of berries to harvest next year.
“It’s going to cost us one year of production,” Webster he said of the cumulative effect.
The 2013 Canada-Nova Scotia Strawberry Assistance Initiative will provide help to producers with the one-time cost of removing and replacing plants to help manage the virus complex.
“There are some farms that haven’t removed acreage that probably should,” Webster said.
Concerns were voiced at the Dec. 6 news conference at Kentville’s Atlantic Food and Horticultural Research Centre in Kentville.
Provincial Agriculture Minister Keith Colwell said he is prepared to continue discussions with producers and has invited West Nova MP Greg Kerr to attend a meeting on Dec. 8 to further the dialogue.
What the money is for
Under the program, producers will be eligible for a payment depending on the production system used on their farm. This payment will help purchase new plants to replace those removed as part of the strategy. Payments will be made once producers begin replanting strawberry crops.
Kerr, speaking on behalf of federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, said what he has learned in conversations in Ottawa is that people from places like Florida feel that some of the best strawberries they’ve ever been exposed to come from Nova Scotia.
“That great American strawberry down there probably did come from Nova Scotia,” he said. “We’ve got to learn to stand up a little more and talk about our product.”
Kerr said he realizes the funding isn’t the answer to everything but it is a significant step forward.
Colwell said he wants to thank the federal government for recognizing the seriousness of the problem.
“Our industry represents about $19 million a year to Nova Scotians,” Colwell said. “To put it into context, that means a lot of jobs for Nova Scotians.”
Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture president Dennis Boudreau said there is no miracle cure once plants have been infected with the virus complex. However, the funding announcement is a step in the right direction.
“Once infected, plants are infected for life. Growers with infected plants have had to focus on preventing the spread to healthy plants and destroy the virus infected fields,” Boudreau said. “This means starting over the following year with virus-free plants. This eradication has a significant cost to the growers and the nurseries involved.”
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada small fruit entomologist Dr. Deb Moreau said plants grown and produced in Nova Scotia and sold to growers in the southeastern United States started showing signs of the virus complex.
“Obviously this is at the detriment to the reputation of Nova Scotia growers,” she said.
An extensive field survey this year confirmed the presence of the virus complex and an aphid known to spread it in a high percentage of fields throughout the province.
For more information on the federal AgriRecovery initiative and how to apply, visit www.AgPal.ca.
Strawberry farmers affected by a virus complex will receive assistance, West Nova MP Greg Kerr and provincial Minister of Agriculture Keith Colwell announced today in Kentville.
The AgriRecovery initiative will provide up to $2.3 million to strawberry producers to remove diseased plants and replace them with healthy plants.
"Strawberry production in Nova Scotia accounts for seven percent of Canada's overall strawberry output and is a major source of nursery plants for the rest of Canada," Kerr said on behalf of federal agriculture minister Gerry Ritz. "This initiative will assist Nova Scotia's producers manage the virus and get their businesses growing again."
Read more about the impact of the virus on Kings County producers here.
"Agriculture is the backbone of Nova Scotia's rural economy," said Keith Colwell. "The AgriRecovery funds will help Nova Scotia strawberry growers regain their footing and get our provincial industry moving forward again."
The industry-developed 2013 Canada-Nova Scotia Strawberry Assistance Initiative will provide up to $2.3 million to assist strawberry producers in Nova Scotia affected by a strawberry virus complex with the one-time extraordinary cost of removing and replacing plants to help manage the virus complex. Producers will be eligible for a payment depending on the production system in use on their farm. This payment will help to purchase new plants to replace those removed as part of the industry-led strategy. Payments will be made once producers begin replanting their strawberry crops.
"The announcement is a step in the right direction," said Dennis Boudreau, President Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture. "There are substantial costs associated with the strawberry virus issue and we will continue to work with government to ensure programs meet the needs of the farm community."
This federal-provincial initiative is being delivered under the AgriRecovery Framework, which allows governments to respond to unforeseen disasters that result in extraordinary costs for producers and where assistance required is beyond what is available under existing programs. Producers are encouraged to make full use of existing government programs - AgriInsurance, AgriStability and AgriInvest, designed to help them mitigate income and production losses due to disaster events including disease.
In August. the province of Nova Scotia announced that it would cover the interest costs for advances under the federal Advance Payment Program for 2013 and 2014, making up to $400,000 available to producers interest-free under the program.
Further information regarding details of this AgriRecovery initiative and how to apply can be found at www.AgPal.ca.