The capital of Prince Edward Island is a quiet, pretty place - most of the time.

But somewhere in the city this spring, someone is going to ruin all that by planting potatoes in the backyard.This will be a job for the provincial potato police - a crack squad of spud spotters who will travel the province this summer to make sure no home gardener plants potatoes.

Those caught with telltale tubers will be subject to a fine of between $172 and $2,150 under the provincial Plant Protection Act.

The ban on the Island tradition of planting potatoes in home gardens has met opposition from some gardeners who view potato planting in PEI as a right, and they told a phone-in radio show last week that they will defy the ban.

Provincial Agriculture Minister Keith Milligan said in an interview last week that the potatoes have to be kept out of home gardens to ensure that the province eliminates any spud that might carry the potato virus Y necrotic (PVYn).

The invisible virus is harmless to human beings but can damage tobacco and tomato plants and has led to a partial ban on the export of seed potatoes to the United States from PEI, which has cost growers $65 million.

The image of uniformed officers arresting gardeners has provided a field day for cartoonists in the island province, but Milligan insisted in an interview that he's dead serious about preventing any home gardener from growing potatoes that could carry the virus.

He said inspectors will visit most homes in the province this summer and will rip out any potatoes they find growing.

The provincial and federal governments are already spending more than $7.7 million to compost 25,000 tons of potatoes suspected of carrying the virus, and Milligan said the ban on home-garden potatoes is another way of telling the world that all diseased potatoes have been removed from the province.

"If you have three rows of potatoes that are diseased and you don't get them this year, who knows how far it will spread? All you need is one positive case to put us out of the marketplace," he said.

Federal inspectors regularly visit island potato farms and inspect crops for possible signs of disease, but this will be the first time the province has launched a home-garden inspection program. Milligan said he doesn't yet know how many inspectors will be needed or how much the inspections will cost.

Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service