To the Editor,
There have been a number of letters to the editor in recent weeks that express concern regarding the application of pesticides in Prince Edward Island, including pesticide use by PEI potato growers.
I would like to take this opportunity to try and dispel some of the myths relating to agricultural pesticides. Pesticides are generally defined as a natural or synthetic product used to control fungal diseases (fungicide), insects (insecticide), or weeds (herbicide).
Readers have no doubt seen large agricultural sprayers in Island fields or on the highways. Many of these sprayers hold up to 4,000 litres of water, enough to spray 40 acres of land, or the equivalent of 30 football fields. At first glance, that may appear to be a lot of pesticides going on fields; however, it is important to note that for a routine fungicide application (the most common pesticide used on P.E.I.), less than 1 kg of actual pesticide is applied to each acre of land, diluted in a large tank of water. This is roughly equivalent to spreading a 1 kg bag of sugar over an entire football field. For most herbicides and insecticides, the levels of active ingredient per application are much lower.
The majority of pesticides used our potato fields are contact fungicides which protect potato plants from contracting Late Blight, the same potato disease that caused the Irish Potato Famine in the 19th century. Potatoes grown in wetter climates like P.E.I. are susceptible to infection by the fungus causing Late Blight. There is no cure once a plant is infected. It is important to add that these contact fungicides are not absorbed by the plant itself and do not make contact with the potato tubers growing under the ground.
Farmers are very careful with their use of pesticides and only apply them when necessary.
Island potato growers don't spray pesticides simply out of habit. Pesticides are a major expense in potato production and reducing the amount of pesticides required to grow a crop of potatoes is a goal of everyone in the industry.
Advances are being made continuously to make pesticides more targeted in effectiveness while reducing impacts on the environment and on humans. The broad-spectrum pesticides of yesteryear have largely been discontinued, with pesticides of today being designed to target only the pests that are impacting the crop. In addition, many potato growers are embracing new technologies such as GPS and band spraying to ensure that only the required amount of pesticides are being applied only in the right place.
The potato industry makes up almost half of the agricultural cash receipts each year and is worth over one billion dollars to the Island economy annually. Regulated and safe application of pesticides, which have be reviewed and approved by Health Canada, is an integral tool in producing only the best quality potatoes for Islanders as well as our customers around the world.
- Gary Linkletter is Chairman of the Prince Edward Island Potato Board and is a potato grower in Linkletter, PEI.