Potatoes screened for metal on farms this fall

As P.E.I.'s potato harvest winds up, there's a distinctly different look to many Island warehouses: they've installed shiny, and expensive, new metal detectors.

Metal detectors are 'a huge bill' for P.E.I. potato farmers, but 'cost of doing business'

Derrick Curley of Monaghan Farms in Springfield demonstrates how the company's metal detector works on a spiked potato. 1:03

As P.E.I.'s potato harvest winds up, there's a distinctly different look to many Island warehouses: they've installed shiny new metal detectors, at a cost of between $50,000 to half a million dollars each.

Last fall, steel needles and other sharp metal objects were detected in P.E.I. potatoes at processing plants and in bags sold throughout Atlantic Canada. A number of metal objects were found in potatoes again this spring.

Derrick Curley of Monaghan Farms in Springfield, P.E.I. says the company's metal; detectors have been working well. (Laura Meader/CBC)

"You know, we were very nervous," said Derrick Curley, operations manager at Monaghan Farms in Springfield, as he talked about last year's tampering. No foreign objects were found in spuds they shipped. 

"We dodged a bullet, and all we could do is prepare for next year," Curley said. And that defense is metal detectors.

"It's almost the cost of doing business these days, there's no way to get around it," said Curley, as he watched thousands of potatoes -- bound for a Frito Lay chip plant in Thailand -- zip down the conveyor and through the detector. 

Curley said Frito Lay and many other buyers now require farmers to screen their potatoes for foreign objects.

Metal detectors like this one at Monaghan Farms are a new 'cost of doing business.' (Laura Meader/CBC)

He demonstrated how the machine works, spitting a test potato he spiked with a needle away from the packing line. 

"We do checks daily, we record the checks and it's detecting everything we put through it," he said.  

Both provincial and federal governments are helping farmers with some funding, but they say it's still an extra expense they didn't have in other years. 
Alex Docherty, chairman of the P.E.I. Potato Board says the metal detectors are 'a huge bill' for farmers. (CBC)

"It's a huge bill, it's costing the economy of P.E.I. just as much as it's costing the farmers and the packers," said P.E.I. Potato Board Chairman Alex Docherty, who is planning to install $600,000 dollars worth of equipment in the next couple of weeks. 

The industry and government were offering a half-million dollar reward for tips on the potato tampering, but the money was never claimed. 

with files from Laura Meader


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