Trout River potato growers commit to cause; watershed member wary
TROUT RIVER – “Agreed in principle” are three words Dale Cameron is wary of.
Cameron, a member of the Trout Unlimited Prince County Chapter, isn’t sold on the recent promise from potato growers in Trout River to adhere to recommendations set forth by the Action Committee for Sustainable Land Management in preventing fish kills.
“The term used was ‘agreed in principle to the recommendations,’” said Cameron. “That’s a little vague.”
The 18 recommendations were made nearly one year ago, after a fourth kill in 10 years occurred in the Barclay Brook area of Trout River. After two more kills occurred midway through this summer, the potato farmers in the region assembled to discuss their options.
Present at the meeting two weeks ago was P.E.I. Potato Board president, Greg Donald, who also sat on the action committee with Cameron.
People need to stop playing the blame game and get on the same page, he said.
“I think the focus needs to be on solving the problem. I find there’s too much of various people pointing fingers in each other’s directions.”
Donald said a big part of the problem is not a lack of care from the farmers in the region, but the geography of the region itself.
“What we’re seeing is that everywhere isn’t the same,” he said. “There are remedies that have been implemented across the Island that are working very well, but there are areas we need to recognize are different and need different medicine to solve the problem.”
That was the idea behind the action committee report a year ago.
“You can’t blanket policies,” he said. “You need to be specific to whatever the situation.”
One way they’ll ensure specific treatment for the area is with the appointment of a Department of Agriculture employee to oversee the area and help farmers plan for prevention.
Cameron believes having someone with the sole focus on prevention is a good place to start.
“I think that was one of the reasons some of the recommendations didn’t get implemented sooner,” he said. “There wasn’t any one person assigned to do nothing but that. There was no champion for the cause. It will definitely be a benefit.”
Some of the recommendations in the report include ensuring farmers adhere to riparian zone rules and soil conservation methods, a new program that would see government purchase at-risk land near watercourses, and require farmers to use pesticides only within their needs and to seek out fish-friendly alternatives.
Currently, the two main pesticides used by potato farmers are chlorothalonil and mancozeb, both of which strongly stick to soil and are considered highly toxic to fish.
Donald said while one can easily deduce pesticides are a factor, he’s never been shown a definitive link between the chemicals and fish kills.
“The products that are used here in P.E.I. are the same ones that are used right across North America,” he said. “That’s just stating a fact. They are products that have been approved.”
Cameron has a different view on the chemicals.
“In my opinion? If there was no spray on the field you wouldn’t get a kill. They didn’t stop breathing of their own accord.”
Stepping away from the blame game again, Donald said farmers are doing their best. Outside of Trout River, there haven’t been any recent issues, he said.
“All the efforts of the agricultural community, including potato farmers, across P.E.I. has been very successful. It’s working.”
Now it’s time to buckle down in Trout River, both men agreed.
“(Farmers) are no different than all Islanders,” Donald said. “They’re frustrated and they want to fix the problem.”
The extent to which the problem will be solved, Cameron isn’t so sure.
“Again, it all comes down to what and how many recommendations they implement.”
To view the full report and all 18 recommendations, visit www.gov.pe.ca/photos/original/elj_suslndmngt.pdf.