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Ottawa eyes aid for flooded fields

Federal and provincial officials in Prince Edward Island are promising swift action in the wake of heavy rains on Sunday. The 90mm that fell on parts of the Island followed rainfall amounts nearly three times normal for August, leaving fruit and vegetable growers to harvest by hand or facing problems storing their produce.


September 10, 2008
By Charlottetown/PEI Guardian

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September 10, 2008

Government help is on the way for P.E.I. farmers stricken by the wettest month ever recorded in August and by monumental rains on the weekend from post-tropical storm Hanna.

Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz told The Guardian on Tuesday that federal and provincial officials are now in the fields assessing the damage and will recommend what assistance programs can be accessed to get relief to farmers as soon as possible.

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“We are right on top of things,’’ said Ritz, who explained that officials would decide what needs can be met by various assistance programs.
The alarm was sounded Monday by Malpeque MP Wayne Easter, the Liberal agriculture critic, who had sent a letter to both Ritz and P.E.I. Agriculture Minister Neil LeClair, calling on them to develop an emergency assistance program for disaster relief for farmers.

Easter said farmers are saying it’s so wet that the big concern is storage because potatoes and other vegetables just can’t be stored because with so much water, they will break down in the warehouse.

Much of the attention of severe flooding from Sunday’s rain, which reached approximately 90 millimetres in some areas, has gone to the washouts of streets and roads and flooded basements. But Ritz said farmers have not been forgotten.

Ritz said he has been talking with LeClair and both are co-operating closely on what can be done to help.

The province is saying  grain crops are the most affected at this time because of the constant moisture, which has severely reduced the value of the crop, said Ritz.

He said it is premature to suggest that upwards of 40 per cent of the P.E.I. potato crop might be lost.

“It’s better to have the rain now than at harvest time. We’ll wait and see how it goes.’’

Ritz said assistance and insurance programs have been overhauled in recent months to make them more stable and accessible to the needs of farmers and that benefits should be seen shortly.

Ritz also said it is also premature to declare the province a disaster zone. The heaviest rains fell in the central and eastern areas of the province on Sunday, but the ground was already saturated with more than 240 millimetres of rainfall in August, almost three times above normal.

“Officials will report back as soon as possible and hopefully the rains will hold off so things can dry out.’’

More rain was in the forecast overnight with another 15-20 millimetres expected before sunshine enters the forecast for the next four of five days.

The potato crop is already highly susceptible to blight because the fields are so wet, but farmers are unable to get on the fields to spray.

Ritz agreed that the biggest immediate benefit for P.E.I. farmers will be an extended period of sunshine.

Monday, officials with the P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture were expressing their concerns with the harvest of various commodities, especially grains, potatoes and blueberries.

Even before Sunday’s 90 millimetres (four inches) of rainfall, harvesters and tractors were getting stuck in grain and blueberry fields. Some blueberry growers were forced to hand-pick the crop in an attempt to  avoid crushing the waterlogged fruit.

Potato farmers are already writing off low-lying fields.

A majority of farmers have crop insurance this year and judging by the
weather it will come in handy.