PEI

Watershed group calls on potato farmers to plant fewer Russet Burbanks

If the P.E.I. Watershed Alliance has its way, the province's most grown potato may eventually be a spud of the past.

Growers say they're already responding to environmental concerns surrounding Russet Burbank variety

Ramsay serves as vice-chair of the PEI Potato Board's processing committee. (CBC)

If the P.E.I. Watershed Alliance has its way, the province's most grown potato may eventually be a spud of the past.

The provincial environment department has been hearing submissions on what a new provincial Water Act should look like. In its presentation to the department, the Watershed Alliance targets Russet Burbank potatoes.

"If we are going to continue to grow potatoes on P.E.I. we need to look at varieties other than Russet Burbank that can be harvested earlier and that don't require as much fertilizer," the submission reads.

At first glance, that appears to be a tough sell on the Island.

According to the PEI Potato Board, Russet Burbank potatoes make up about a third of the Island's potato acreage. (CBC)

According to the Prince Edward Island Potato Board, Russet Burbank potatoes make up about a third of the Island's potato market and are easily the most sought after for processors and restaurants looking for quality french fries.

Hamilton, P.E.I., grower John Ramsay knows all about it. He sells processing potatoes — about 70 per cent of them Russet Burbanks — to McCain and Cavendish Farms.

"It's the long term storability of {Russet Burbank potatoes}, it's that they maintain colour and good quality through the summer seasons, which the processors need to fill their summer business," said Ramsay.

"They fry so that they will stand up in their little boxes nice and straight with good gravity, and they have a very appealing taste."

Russet Burbanks planted less and less on P.E.I.

Ramsay, who serves as vice-chair of the potato board's processing committee, said despite the appeal of Russet Burbanks, processors and growers have started moving away from them in an effort to use less fertilizer.

"We are probably 35 per cent less Burbank acreage now than we were in 2008," said Ramsay.

"It's a long progress, but we are surely and slowly moving away from Russet Burbanks and moving into other varieties."

Ramsay said processors and private breeders are regularly experimenting with new varieties — some of which are already being grown on the Island. He said 20 per cent of the potatoes he sells to Cavendish are the Prospect variety.

John Ramsay sells processing potatoes - about 70 per cent of them Russet Burbanks - to McCain and Cavendish Farms. (CBC)

"The Prospect is much less hungry for nitrates. It uses probably 20 per cent less nitrogen, and that's an appealing feature for sure," he said. Nitrate is the product of nitrogen fertilizers.

That said, Ramsay doesn't think Russet Burbank spuds will be phased out altogether, at least not any time soon. He said growers are finding ways to lessen their environmental footprint.

"We are figuring out better ways to minimize the nitrate use on Russet Burbanks," he said. "And I think we're clear right now we can reduce by 10 per cent and not affect the yield."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Steve Bruce

Video journalist

Steve Bruce is a video journalist with CBC P.E.I. He landed on the Island in 2009, after stints with CBC in Fredericton, St. John's, Toronto and Vancouver. He grew up in Corner Brook, N.L.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?

now