Power line trucks carry risk of clubroot: farmer

An Innisfail-area farmer is butting heads with a power line company over access to his land and clubroot precautions.

Rick Tams

Rick Tams

An Innisfail-area farmer is butting heads with a power line company over access to his land and clubroot precautions.

Rick Tams said when AltaLink came to do some work on a transmission tower on his property on Monday, he asked workers to steam clean their truck first. Tams said he is concerned that the truck could spread clubfoot into his vulnerable canola crops.

“It makes me a little mad the way they treat farmers and then they get on the radio and say how well they treat them,” he said, referring to radio advertisements aired by the company.

“All I’m asking them to do is steam clean their truck before they come in,” he said. “And they said they don’t need to do it.”

An infestation could prove devastating to his crops, said Tams. The $100 to $200 cost of a steam clean seems a small price to pay for him to ensure clubroot is not spread to his land.

Clubroot is a fungal disease easily spread because its spores are distributed by the movement of soil, including the mud that gets stuck on farm or industry vehicles as they move from field to field.

AltaLink spokesman Scott Schreiner said the company is well aware of the dangers of transferring weeds or other infestations like clubroot and has policies in place to ensure trucks are clean before they go from one farm to another.

The company has committed to cleaning its truck at a wash bay in Innisfail and taking only paved roads to Tams’ land to ensure that it doesn’t pick up any dirt. AltaLink also checked to ensure the truck wasn’t coming from any fields with clubroot.

“This is something that we take seriously. And certainly clubroot is a significant issue for all agricultural operations and we want to make sure that we are doing everything we can as well to reasonably prevent the spread of clubroot,” he said.

Clubroot is typically spread by dirt stuck to equipment moving from one site to another and ensuring equipment is clean is a “reasonable response,” he said.

Trucks going from infected fields to clean fields are required to be washed and disinfected with chemicals.

Tams contends pressure washing isn’t good enough. Steam cleaning offers much more security against the spread of clubroot and many farmers insist on it, he said.

Clubroot was first found in Alberta on a field in Sturgeon County and has since spread to more than a dozen counties, including Ponoka and Lacombe Counties in Central Alberta. It has not been found in Red Deer County, according to information posted on Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development’s site. The county is listed as a place where clubroot is either suspected or results are inconclusive.

Early infection at the seedling stage can result in wilting, stunting and yellowing of canola plants.

Tams raised his concerns with the Alberta Surface Rights Board and the Farmer’s Advocate. He said there is little he can do to deny AltaLink access because a lease agreement is in place. That agreement is decades old and did not contemplate issues like clubroot.

This is not the first run-in Tams has had with AltaLink. He sued them a number of years ago for not continuing a weed spraying program around the transmission towers that had been done by the company’s predecessor, TransAlta Utilities.

Tams said he won his case but later dropped it because of legal costs when the company appealed.

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com

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