PEI Potato Board returns fire

Teresa Wright
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The Prince Edward Island Potato Board came flying to its own defence and to the defence of big french fry companies Monday (Sept 15) after a well-known Island farmer and agriculture activist accused the companies last week of undercutting potato prices and the board of being in a conflict of interest.

The board vehemently denied both allegations.

PEI Potato Board returns fire

The Prince Edward Island Potato Board came flying to its own defence and to the defence of big french fry companies Monday (Sept 15) after a well-known Island farmer and agriculture activist accused the companies last week of undercutting potato prices and the board of being in a conflict of interest.

The board vehemently denied both allegations.

Last Thursday (Sept. 11), Danny Hendricken, well known for his work with the National Farmers Union, told the provincial agriculture standing committee that processing companies like Cavendish Farms and McCains have been undercutting PEI potato prices by flooding the open market with cheap potatoes.

He said the potato board has its hands tied in trying to regulate this, since all but two members of this board have contracts with these same processing companies.

Kevin McIsaac, chairman of the PEI Potato Board, held a press conference to respond, saying board members are not in a conflict of interest at all, as many of them grow open market tablestock potatoes as well as processing potatoes for the french fry companies.

He also pointed out that four members of the potato boardnot twoare without processing contracts with the big companies.

There was some discussion as to perhaps the board couldnt govern itself because perhaps the board was in a conflict of interestbut were duly elected by our growers to regulate our industry and I think we can do that in a decent way, McIsaac said.

He was also concerned about some comments made by a few of the provincial MLAs on the Agriculture committee, when they suggested that government should step in and regulate the industry.

Thats been tried before back in Mr. Ghiz seniors era and it really didnt work very well because you need to have people who are familiar with the inside of the industry as to how it works, McIsaac said.

But last week, Henricken spoke very passionately to the provincial committee, telling the MLAs something needs to be done about the low prices he charged are affected by the large processing companies that are buying up the growers extra potatoes.

Hundreds of pounds of extra potatoes are harvested each year by Island producers.

These extras are potatoes grown usually as a safety net to ensure a grower can meet his contract needs.

Over the last few years, many of these extras have been bought for two- and three cents a pound by the processing companies who have been keeping them in storage then putting them out on the market at certain times of the year.

When the market becomes flooded with these cheap potatoes, it can drive down prices for all potatoes on the market.

But on Monday (Sept. 15), McIsaac detailed to reporters the initiatives the PEI Potato Board has taken to prevent this sort of thing from happening.

For several years now our consistent message to all potato farmers across the province has been to plant only the acres that you have a market for.

And fault should not be heaved solely upon the large french fry companies for the low prices, McIsaac added.

I think any one of our dealers will attempt to buy potatoes as cheaply as they can. Theyre in business for profit, McIsaac said.

The growers own the potatoes and we have to change the system so that potatoes are worth moreand overproduction will hurt the financial returns of all PEI potato growers.

(This article was originally published in The Guardian.)



Organizations: PEI Potato Board, Prince Edward Island Potato Board, Agriculture committee

Geographic location: Iceland, Farmers Union

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