Biosecurity should be top of mind for potato growers, according to Prince Edward Island potato producer Gary Linkletter.
Linkletter brought his grower’s perspective to a presentation on biosecurity at Manitoba Potato Production Days, held in Brandon, Man. from January 26 to 28.
Offering examples from his own experiences on his fourth-generation, 1,700-acre potato operation, Linkletter emphasized that biosecurity is “about saving money, increasing profit, and keeping our farms in business.”
Biosecurity is defined as a series of management practices designed to prevent, minimize and control the introduction of pests and diseases onto the farm, their spread within the farm, and movement off the farm.
But Linkletter said there’s a simpler definition of biosecurity: “trying to find ways not to lose money to diseases and pests.”
“Why would I implement biosecurity as a farmer? I’ll lose money if I don’t,” he said.
On Linkletter’s operation, daily biosecurity measures include scouting for late blight, “simple” diseases such as potato virus Y (PVY) and complex diseases such as potato cyst nematode (PCN).
In the 1980s, the Linkletter operation purchased neighbouring land from a farmer who had dealt with a severe case of bacterial ring rot in the past. They chose to attempt to address the problem prior to planting their first potato crop on the new ground.
“We allowed the new land to sit for three years with only grain crops, because we were nervous and it was suggested to us by some very good experts that three years was the maximum time ring rot could live in the soil without a host,” said Linkletter.
But a few years later, a seed inspector found ring rot in the field, which Linkletter had seeded to russet Burbank. The disease had survived seven years, protected by debris.
“We had to ship our entire crop to market and then do a multi-week cleanup before we could take home any seed. This meant we had to sell the whole crop way before we planted anything the next spring despite the fact we had markets we normally supplied until the end of June,” he said.
What could they have done differently? Linkletter believes they could have walked the field more carefully and taken more precautions to ensure the disease had died out.
Linkletter described another experience with biosecurity on his operation — the discovery of potato wart years later. When the disease was confirmed by CFIA, the operation went into quarantine, trucks and equipment were cleaned and disinfected upon entering or leaving fields, and Linkletter had to provide detailed field histories.
The problem this time? Employees did not know what potato wart looked like, Linkletter said.
In addition, they’d been removing leftover clay from bin pilers and moving it to fields with most need, rather than fields the clay had come from.
“That had potential to move disease all around the farm,” he said. “It was a huge biosecurity hole in our practices that had created tremendous risk for the farm and we will avoid it at all costs in the future.”
Regardless of disease severity levels or the history of disease in local areas, no one is safe from biosecurity risks, Linkletter emphasized.
“We’re all fighting biosecurity — late blight and pink rot are problems in our fields that we try to get rid of. Some are more invasive than others, but we fight little battles all the time,” he said. “It’s an ongoing effort on the farm.”
In Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada has created a National Farm-Level Biosecurity Standard for Potato Growers, a document Linkletter said is essential for growers considering how best to implement biosecurity measures on the farm.
The document, created by representatives from the Potato Council and AAFC staff, offers a producer guidance document for potato growers, including a framework for the creation of individual farm biosecurity plans or the improvement of existing programs at the farm level.
Recommendations include creating controlled access zones and restricted access zones on farms, requiring disinfection of people and vehicles moving between zones, as well as properly managing and disposing of wastes.
One of Linkletter’s main insights, he said, is that it is much better to have a problem and know it, than have a problem and not know it.
“It is a big deal working through a disease issue but it is better than losing the farm, not to mention the risk of passing the problem along to your neighbours,” he said.
“It is always very tempting to ignore a disease situation, especially a big one if it can be shoved under the table for a while, but ultimately things have to be dealt with and the sooner we deal with a problem the sooner it is done and the less it will cost.”