Some P.E.I. potatoes rotting in storage
Farmers in western end of Island hit particularly hard
Some farmers on P.E.I. are dealing with the problem of potatoes rotting in storage this winter and growers in the western part of the province are especially hard hit.
Vernon Campbell's warehouse in Graham's Road, east of Kensington, is piled high with 6-million pounds of russet burbank potatoes that are scheduled to be processed into french fries in July.
'Potatoes are like apples. One bad apple in a barrel can spoil so many more.'—Vernon Campbell
But Campbell isn't sure they're going to keep that long.
There's a rotten spot in the middle of the pile he's trying to keep from spreading.
"Potatoes are like apples. One bad apple in a barrel can spoil so many more. And with a pile 20 feet high, a little problem can become a big problem in a very short time," he said.
Campbell said the issue is something they call sugar ends or jelly ends — soft ends on the potato that can rot.
The condition, which was caused by last summer's extremely hot, dry conditions, followed by record rains in September meant russet burbanks grew disproportionately quickly, he said.
"They were growing so fast that the sugars in the potato didn't convert to starch. So what we have is sugar ends."
Allison Dennis of Arlington, near Tyne Valley, had to dump 18 to 19 million pounds of rotten potatoes.
That's a third of his entire harvest from last fall — a loss of about $2 million.
Dennis said it's "like a bad dream."
"I've been at it for 30 years and I never seen anything like this before, and never hope to again. There's a lot of money that's going to be missing when the spring rolls around, that's all I know," said Dennis.
"It's a hard pill to swallow."
Processing plants on P.E.I. have been juggling to immediately take in potatoes that were supposed to keep until this spring or summer.
"The quality isn't there, so processors are having trouble meeting specs," says Kensington farmer Trent Caseley.
He said he lost two-thirds of one bin of potatoes. He estimated they were worth about $200,000.
Farmers say they are also spending a lot of extra money washing and sorting the rotten potatoes before sending them to be processed.
Although the P.E.I. Potato Board won't say how many farmers have been dealing with rotten potatoes, it does say the losses are "very disappointing."
Greg Donald, the board's executive director, said in an email: "However the primary result of the storage issues have been movement of bins earlier than planned and higher than normal cullage rates. Growers with issues are/have worked very hard to make sure the product they ultimately deliver to their customers is the very best despite these storage issues."
Some farmers have their crops insured.
But Campbell said, "many do not carry storage insurance because it's too expensive."
Campbell's own potatoes are not insured.
Dennis has also never purchased storage insurance, so he will have to absorb his losses.