PEI

P.E.I.'s potato bumper crop one of the best in 'many generations,' now needs markets

An industry analyst says P.E.I.'s potato crop is one of the best in decades, with some growers calling it their best ever. But Kevin MacIsaac says potato growers will need to be patient in selling this bumper crop.

Industry analyst advises patience to avoid flooding the market and lowering prices

Kevin MacIsaac says usually one area or two areas of P.E.I. have good crops, but this year, things are looking good across the Island. (Cody MacKay/CBC)

After a couple of difficult seasons, this year's potato crop on P.E.I. is being called one of the best in decades.

But an industry analyst says potato growers will need to be patient in selling the bumper crop, to make sure they don't flood the market and push down prices. 

"This year's potato crop in P.E.I. is one of the best that growers have grown for many generations. A beautiful crop this year," said Kevin MacIsaac, general manager of the United Potato Growers of Canada. 

"Usually, you have one area or two areas (on P.E.I.) that have some real good crops, you don't have everybody that has a good crop. It's nice to see people who have been in the industry a long time say this is one of my best crops ever."

MacIsaac says it will be important for growers to be patient. (Alex MacIsaac/CBC)

MacIsaac said the last time the crop was around these levels would have been in 2006, and that was with a larger number of acres. 

He said last year yields were off by about 35 per cent in P.E.I., and two years ago some parts of P.E.I. were down by 20 per cent as well.

Challenges ahead

MacIsaac said there are some challenges that come with this size of a crop. 

He said there is a definite danger of pushing too many potatoes into the market too quickly. 

"The challenge will be patience. Growers need to be patient," MacIsaac said.

"The worst case scenario is if we had too much pressure on the market, and we see that market respond in a negative way. What needs to happen now is orderly marketing. We need to look a little longer into the picture, and do this gradually." 

The 2021 growing season went very well, particularly at this farm in North Bedeque. (Cody Mackay/CBC)

MacIsaac said there are areas of Canada that had below average crops, including Manitoba and Alberta.

"We have the opportunity to move this crop. There are areas in the country that are short this year," MacIsaac said.

"It's a matter of figuring out some logistics, and transportation and getting potatoes to areas like that."

A crew harvests a field of Prince Edward Island potatoes in September 2020. This year's crop is a pleasant change from last year's drought-reduced crop. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

MacIsaac said there are also opportunities to sell south of the border as well, in the states of Washington and Idaho. 

"Washington had a hot, dry season. State of Idaho, which is the biggest player in the U.S., had a lot of hot, dry weather, and also potatoes didn't do well because of the smoke coverage throughout the season," MacIsaac said. 

Fresh and processing markets

MacIsaac said one of the first steps for potatoes going to the fresh market would be to go to retailers and ask them for help promoting potatoes. 

"They've done a good job already. We've seen demand on the table side increase this fall as kids have gone back to school. It's really good right now, but we need to move some more of that crop, as fast as we can," MacIsaac said.

On the processing side, MacIsaac says this year's crop is a sharp contrast to the last two years when there was a shortage of potatoes and they had to be shipped in to P.E.I. (Fertilizer Canada)

MacIsaac said on the processing side, this year's crop is a sharp contrast to the last two years when there was a shortage of potatoes

"We don't have to ask, because we know the processors will want to use every potato they possibly can," MacIsaac said.  

"Other years they had to bring in loads and loads of potatoes, and all of that nightmare of organizing that to keep their plants running."

MacIsaac says on P.E.I. there will there be enough temporary storage to get the crop under cover, just not all of it well-insulated and well-ventilated, which is what is needed for longer-term storage. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

There have been concerns raised about whether there is enough storage for all of the potatoes, but MacIsaac isn't worried. 

"In P.E.I. there will there be enough storage in some form to get the crop under cover," MacIsaac said. 

"Other provinces, not so much so. New Brunswick is pretty well up to their storage limit. Ontario is the same. Quebec is similar.

MacIsaac says there are other potato growing areas that have had below average crops, and could be potential markets for P.E.I. potatoes. (Brian McInnis/CBC)

"I think P.E.I. probably has enough storage, just not the long-term, well-ventilated, well-insulated storage that we need for later in the season."

MacIsaac said it will be important to sell the potatoes in temporary storage as quickly as possible, before the temperatures get cooler.

"They're usually buildings that were built as a second option. They may store machinery, or something like that, but they will get them in under cover for now, and then the industry will have to work to move them out."

More optimism

MacIsaac said after four decades in the industry he is happy to see this year's success.

"It will certainly put some optimism back into the industry, because I think the growers were very frustrated with the kind of weather conditions they'd been dealt in the last two years," MacIsaac said.

"But we have to be careful that we reach the balance in supply and demand and not exceed that, so we don't affect the profitability for the growers."

MacIsaac says 'there's nothing nicer than to plant a crop, work all season and grow it, harvest it and do that to the very extent of your ability.' (Kerry Campbell/CBC)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nancy Russell has been a reporter with CBC since 1987, in Whitehorse, Winnipeg, Toronto and Charlottetown. When not on the job, she spends her time on the water or in the gym rowing, or walking her dog. Nancy.Russell@cbc.ca

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