Nova Scotia growers will only be able to access $1.3 to $1.5 million of the $2.3 million Canada-Nova Scotia Strawberry Assistance Initiative, Charlie Keddy said Dec. 20.
The Lakeville farmer said he and three or four of the largest growers in the province had examined the eligibility criteria in the initiative and “we can’t see how we can access more than $1.5 million. Given the criteria that you have to work with and the amount per acre that was set by the program, we feel that $1.5 would be” the very most.
The federal assistance program was designed to help growers impacted by a complex virus. Winged aphids on farms in NS and Prince Edward Island spread an inoculum made up of mottled and mild yellow viruses. Infected plants withered and their fruit production—if any—was negligible. Many growers were forced to plow under hectares of strawberries.
On Dec. 6, West Nova MP Greg Kerr and Nova Scotia Agriculture Minister Keith Colwell announced the federal Initiative to provide up to $2.3 million to producers to remove diseased plants and replace them with healthy ones.
Producers were to be eligible for a payment depending on the production system in use on their farm. Payments to purchase new plants were to be made once replanting got underway.
Keddy wanted three things clarified about the initiative.
• “It wasn’t enough aid, it was half of what we asked for.
• “Because of the criteria probably not much more than $1.3 to $1.5 will be accessible by the growers.
• “I did not want to slam the new Liberal government because it was the NDP that negotiated it and this new agriculture minister has been really, really, willing to sit down and to talk.”
Keddy said strawberry growers were “a bit disappointed with what was negotiated by the former government. But this minister of agriculture (Colwell) did go back to Ottawa and see if they could renegotiate it. He knew that it wasn’t enough.”
Keddy said the recovery package could not be renegotiated. He noted that Colwell “is certainly willing to sit down and work with industry and try to do everything he can to make it a workable situation. The unfortunate part is the criteria is probably only going to allow us to access $1.3 to $1.5 of that $2.3 million.”
The grower hopes he’ll be proved wrong but, “The way that the program is structured it’s going to leave federal dollars on the table that were committed to the recovery program.”
Keddy is also concerned about the public’s perception about the industry. “Last summer they (Nova Scotia government) announced that there was $2 million in assistance (to cover the interest costs for advances under the federal Advance Payment Program for 2013 and 2014). There was no way in hell they would ever have spent more than $35,000. It’s all smoke and mirrors. The federal government already pays the interest on the first $100,000 (of the loan). You've got to pay the loan back from strawberry revenue (and) there was probably only one strawberry grower in the province who could have accessed more than the $100,000. And he said he wasn’t going to do it because he already owed enough money to everybody.”
Keddy said to the general public it sounded as if $2 million was available in funding to the industry.
“Nobody took out that interest forgiveness loan to this point (Dec. 20) because it was such a poorly set up program.
“The perception is that we got $2 million in July and now we’re getting another $2.3 million. The reality is there hasn’t been a dollar delivered to the industry yet.”