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P.E.I. Potato Board should welcome dissenting voices, says NFU

Please read the NFU-PEI’s response, which can be found in today’s Guardian (March 11, 2022), which addresses the PEI Potato Board’s letter from last week. The Potato Board’s letter can be seen first for reference (P.E.I Potato Board: P.E.I potatoes are safe and free of potato wart – March 4, 2022).

In this climate of uncertainty, there is one thing that is certain; that is the predictability of the P.E.I. Potato Board. As soon as any dissenting opinion is voiced on what the board sees as its monopoly of all things potatoes in the province, the attack missile is launched. It appears the NFU struck a nerve with its opinion article on the scapegoating of CFIA by other players in the creation of the current potato crisis.

The first line of attack is always the same. The “NFU represents a small fraction of Prince Edward Island farms, particularly potato farms.” The fact is the potato board has no idea how many Island farmers of any commodity group are NFU members. Since they can’t secure the numbers, they speculate and offer it up as fact.

The writer of the letter notes that the P.E.I. NFU has not been at any of the “consultations, negotiations or advocacy with provincial or federal government officials during the potato wart crisis.” That’s fact. It is very difficult to be at a table to which you are not invited since it appears only liked-minded guests with the same agenda are welcomed. This means the voices of many farmers are not heard or represented. Alternative ideas are definitely not heard and as many political leaders have discovered to their peril that surrounding one self with only those who will tell you what you want to hear can be fatal.

As for the statement that the NFU did not offer to come and be part of the “effort to reverse trade restrictions or to lobby for government support of Island table and seed potato growers who are bearing the brunt of this crisis,” we ask for some honesty. Did the board extend an invitation? If so we missed the memo. The fact is the board has no idea what lobbying the NFU is doing or with whom. We can work without the need to headline the news cycle.

The writer speaks of heartbreaking meetings with fellow frustrated and stressed potato growers. The implication is that the NFU knows nothing of such matters. It is another falsehood. Our members know. A good number are unfortunately facing it in this crisis, and others have faced it in past crises and in other commodities. I know firsthand what it is to lose my dairy livelihood thanks to unprincipled behaviour by someone that I conducted business with, and what it is not to be able to financially recover. The board shouldn’t imply it has cornered the view on suffering.

Is diverging in opinion and course of action now labelled a grudge? There might be some exaggeration, rumour, misinformation and conspiracy theory contained in the board statement that the NFU holds a grudge against them.

I am very glad to see in your last paragraph the statement that “responsible representative farmer organizations work together with all stakeholders to improve conditions for both their members as well as the industry as a whole.” The NFU has been trying to do just that for the past 53 years, so hopefully that statement implies something is about to change. For all these years, members of the NFU have proposed sustainable farming policies and practices and marketing strategies that would serve farmers, the industry, and Canadians.

Unfortunately other agriculture groups that see themselves as the power brokers have insisted in adhering to monoculture industrial agriculture that has pushed many farmers aside for mega operations producing cheap food at the expense of farm families, the land, and the environment. We are not feeling smug about this crisis. We are deeply saddened that even though the warnings were there, there were those who thought they could “manage” a fungus rather than stand against a corporate interest that wanted its own way to the detriment of independent farmers.

When bad situations are created, tireless work does have to be done to correct it. This crisis is about far more than getting the American border open, which is of course essential. It is an opportunity to make the real changes that protect the livelihood of independent farmers, our land and environment, and our provincial economy. Change needs to start with accountability, and acknowledgment of what needs to be fixed. There especially needs to be transparency of agendas. Minds need to open to what all stakeholders have to offer, even if it is not what suits in the moment to be heard.

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