The proof that too many potatoes are a problem

The crop yields were good on Prince Edward Island 40 years ago, but the math was bad for its potato farmers.

P.E.I. farmers struggled 40 years ago, as potatoes sold for half of what they cost to grow

A glut of potatoes in 1979 left many P.E.I. growers having to sell their crops for less than they cost to grow. 2:05

The crop yields were good on Prince Edward Island 40 years ago, but the math was bad for its potato farmers.

Farmers on the island had found out that warnings not to expand their crops had been issued for good reason, as a glut of potatoes had flooded the market.

"P.E.I. was the only major potato growing area in North America to increase planting this year in spite of warnings that would be a mistake," the CBC's Bob Allison said, when explaining the situation on The National near the end of November in 1979.

"The result is that farmers are getting less than two cents a pound for potatoes that cost four cents a pound to grow."

Better marketing needed?

The CBC's Bob Allison visited a potato farm in Kinkora, P.E.I., when reporting on the challenges island farmers were facing in 1979. (The National/CBC Archives)

St. Clair Duffy, a potato farmer in Kinkora, P.E.I., was among the few farmers who had cut back his acreage.

He believed a national potato marketing board should be established, so that production could be controlled.

"This is the only way that you won't have one province being pitted against the other and farmer against farmer," he said.

Other than french fries, it was tough

Farmers were quick to dump potatoes with any sign of rot, as they attempted to keep up the quality of their crops in a market that was well supplied with potatoes. (The National/CBC Archives)

Allison said farmers had strong demand for the type of potatoes used to make fast food french fries, which then accounted for about one-third of the total crop on the island.

Those same farmers were getting lower prices for all those other potatoes, the ones consumers had to peel themselves in order to cook at home.

It was predicted that the challenging market would put some farmers out of business, which in turn would shrink the number of overall producers the following year and thus prices would go back up at that time.

But Allison would be reporting on low potato prices again the following year, when another year of high yields meant challenging times for those same farmers.