[Summerside, PEI] – Prince Edward Island needs to be more competitive in the global market for Island potatoes.
Since plant-breeders’ rights laws were passed in Canada and the United States in the early 1990s, “We’ve been bringing new varieties to market, getting them protected through plant breeders’ rights and marketing them. And for the most part we’ve been marketing to Canada and the United States.
“Some of the companies we’re working with have said, ‘Guys you can move further afield,’” added Northcott. So, “We’re trying to get the exclusive rights licences for Central and South America for some of these varieties.”
He believes there is a growing demand for potatoes. “We just haven’t been pounding on the doors long enough.”
Northcott said the potato can be the crop of the future, “but we need to be doing things in PEI that make us a little bit more competitive and we need to get out and do some travelling and variety trials and marketing, and we’re doing that,” he said.
“One of the big problems we have is we haven’t had a very good reputation in maintaining virus disease levels here on PEI.”
There’s also a lack of new varieties of spuds.
“We’re still offering the varieties that you could have bought here back in the ‘50s,” added Northcott. Island producers are still shipping Kennebecs, for instance, but the market is limited.
He suggests, PEI is “just getting the business that the Dutch, Belgians and Scots don’t want.” They get the contracts first because “we’re almost $2,000 a container more costly than any European supplier.
“Some of the markets that we’ve been traditionally selling to have developed their own seed potato systems… that’s really changing the market.”
Years ago potato boats would be lined up in the Summerside harbour but countries such as Uruguay, who once imported a lot of potatoes, improved their technology and equipment for growing their own. Now, they only buy a 10th the amount of seed they used to buy.
“There’s lot of work to be done to develop seed export business,” Northcott said. “Really, the potato industry hasn’t invested anything in 20 years in seed potato marketing… We’re almost like a garage that’s not on the main highway anymore. You’ve got to get people to your door and get them buying.
“The markets exist. People have got to get on the airplanes and go and visit and shake hands with people and get business,” he said. “There’s business in Montenegro, Serbia and Croatia, Albania, Bosnia.”
Last fall a group from Venezuela was here meeting with Island potato growers to set out guidelines for the type of produce they require.
In dealing with Venezuela, however, Island exporters have to deal with government representatives. And with an unstable government “It’s extremely difficult,” added Northcott.
Despite all that, he believes Venezuela is another viable market and worth pursuing.