Potato pros examine P.E.I. production

Lukie Pieterse
March 01, 2011
By Lukie Pieterse

This past summer, an international potato industry group gathered on Prince Edward Island to get an insight into the main sectors of the industry on the island.

This past summer, an international potato industry group gathered on Prince Edward Island to get an insight into the main sectors of the industry on the island. Eleven individuals from Finland, Australia, Israel, Brazil, Chile and Costa Rica visited 16 different potato companies and organizations on the island, while several industry specialists from P.E.I., Nova Scotia and New Brunswick presented to the group as well. The tour was organized and hosted by Global Potato Tours, headed by potato consultant Lukie Pieterse.

One of the first places of interest on the tour group’s schedule was a visit to Fox Island Elite Seed Farm – P.E.I.’s prime nuclear and mini-tuber seed production facility in the western region of the island. The Elite Seed Potato Farm at Fox Island was established in 1962 by the past P.E.I. Potato Marketing Board. The current P.E.I. Potato Board continues to operate the farms on behalf of P.E.I. potato producers. The farm has expanded over time to include a farm workshop, a disinfection station, a pesticide storage building, a tissue culture laboratory, screen houses, a seminar facility and an additional property with an irrigation pond. The total land base is 210 ha (520 ac). Cultivated land is 130 ha (320 ac) and up to 100 ac of potatoes can be grown each season using a three-year rotation. Mary-Kay Sonier, seed specialist for the P.E.I. Potato Board, guided the tour group and provided detailed information on the activities on the farm.

Still in Western P.E.I., the tour group paid a visit to W.P. Griffin Inc., a family-owned and -operated grower/packer business. John Griffin, president of W.P. Griffin Inc., acts as general manager in charge of administration and oversees the farming and packaging operations. He guided the tour group at the packing facility and explained that the company packages many different types of potatoes, including Russets, yellow-fleshed, reds and round whites. W.P. Griffin packages these in various sizes of traditional paper, poly, mesh and poly-mesh bags. The company also has the capability to provide size-specific count packs for the food service industry.

The tour group spent the better part of a morning at the Harrington Research Farm near Charlottetown. The farm is operated by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Several researchers showed and discussed trial work on late blight, other potato related diseases, pests, rotation crops, variety trials, and more. Of particular interest was the entomology research program at the farm. Program leader Dr. Christine Noronha explained to the group that the program focuses on developing insect pest management techniques for potato production. The goal is to provide potato producers with an integrated insect pest management strategy.  Currently, research is being conducted to reduce the spread of PVY by co-ordinating the provincial aphid alert system with insecticide and oil applications in the field.  The efficacy of Trichogramma brassicae (an egg parasitoid wasp) to control the European corn borer in potatoes on P.E.I. is being evaluated. Research is also being conducted to determine the potential of a two-year crop rotation with specific crops to reduce the level of wireworm damage to potato tubers when planted following these crops. 

Researchers involved in the entomology program at Harrington Research Farm are studying the impact of an organic potato management system on the populations of Collembola (springtails), soil dwelling insects that are used to determine soil health. The efficacy of new reduced risk insecticides to control potato insect pests is also being evaluated. In addition to the above, the use and efficacy of insect pathogens such as Beauveria bassiana and Metarhizium anisopliae is part of the ongoing entomological research at the farm.

George Webster, Minister of Agriculture, and Brian Douglas, Deputy Minister of Agriculture, with the P.E.I. Department of Agriculture, met with the tour group in Charlottetown for a luncheon. Both the ministers addressed the group and emphasized that Prince Edward Island is an important potato growing region in North America where growers and the industry are constantly striving to adapt to changes in climate and to embrace new technologies. Group members were invited for a return visit and encouraged to spread the word about the island’s potato industry back in their home countries.

During a visit to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), the tour group gained insight into the activities of the agency. Dr. Solke de Boer and his colleagues explained that CFIA is responsible for the federal Seed Potato Certification Program, as well as the establishment and maintenance of policy directives to prevent the introduction and spread of diseases and regulated quarantine pests of potatoes in Canada. Typical CFIA activities include:

  • verifying and certifying that exports of potatoes meet the phytosanitary requirements of countries that import Canadian products
  • verifying that imports of potatoes meet Canadian phytosanitary requirements
  • conducting surveys to detect and control or eradicate designated plant pests in Canada.

At Allan Potato Handling Equipment, the group had a closer look at the company’s potato harvesters and windrowers – manufactured on site at the company’s headquarters located outside of Charlottetown. Donald Allan, president and CEO, also showed the group a range of related potato equipment produced by Allan Potato Handling Equipment, including pallet box loaders, conveyors, forklift hoppers, telescopic bin pilers, potato washers, belt graders and dirt eliminators. Tour members received a CD with detailed information on the company’s activities.

During a visit to the headquarters of Vanco Farms, the tour group learned that the company grows seed potatoes, processing potatoes and table potatoes at two different locations on Prince Edward Island. According to Rit VanNieuwenhuyzen, in charge of the potato operation at Vanco Farms, the company continues to develop markets with new specialty varieties in conventional and organic production. Vanco Farms produces and packages organic potatoes under the brand name Pure Organics Prince Edward Island. The company has been experimenting to find varieties that are more tolerable to fungi and bacteria, and have used a super sized “vacuum cleaner” in the past to suck bugs off the plants. Vanco Farms has undertaken a huge project to computerize its efforts at food safety traceability. The system is called “Path.” According to VanNieuwenhuyzen the company can trace its potatoes from any field to the customer’s fork. This system includes quality checks that can be made available to customers.

The tour group visited the new Holland College facility in Charlottetown where science and food are joined together to create unique, novel culinary delights in Canada’s “Smartest Kitchen” – a new $4-million facility at the Culinary Institute in Charlottetown. Cavendish Farms also invested in the project. This has given the company its own culinary creation centre in a separate part of the building to be used solely for researching, developing and testing products for Cavendish Farms. The approximately 12,000-square foot facility is managed by chefs looking to find innovative ways to create value-added foods. The group was treated to several novel dishes created from potatoes. They learned the newest trend in the food world is functional food where scientists extract bioactive compounds from different food sources, such as potatoes, including vitamins or healthy acids. Once extracted, the chefs at the smart kitchen can then put those healthy boosters into another food product.

Other visits during the potato study tour included:

  • a visit to the trial site of a company conducting private contract research trials (testing of new products for registration purposes – fertilizers, chemicals, and related products)
  • a visit to a manufacturer and distributor of storage control systems (ventilation, refrigeration, variable fan drives, humidity control technology, and more)
  • large chips producing farming operation where the group also met with an international potato exporter
  • a visit to a private potato breeding operation

Barbara Daniels-Lake, a researcher with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and specialist in the use of ethylene in potato storages, presented to the group and communicated the latest findings in this specialty area.

When leaving the island, all members of the tour group commented that P.E.I. is indeed a “microcosm” of the potato industry where much can be learned and valuable knowledge can be gained.

P.E.I. fruit farmer one of three 2011 Nuffield Canada Scholars

Raymond Loo, a sixth generation farmer from Springfield, Prince Edward Island, was one of three 2011 Nuffield Scholarship recipients chosen recently by the Canadian Nuffield Farming Scholarship Trust.
Since 1996, Loo’s Springwillow Farms has been a certified organic farm growing fruit, garden vegetables, grains, forages and livestock.

In 2005, Loo set out to market organically produced P.E.I. products in Japan. Currently the resulting operation, Annespei Farm, markets products from 24 P.E.I. farmers. Crops exported include black currants, non-GMO and organic canola seed and oil, organic soybeans, organic buckwheat, organic rhubarb and other fruit. Visitors to Loo’s farm are often surprised to see fields of dandelions – the roots of which are used by the Japanese in the production of a specific coffee.

Loo has been working very hard to develop the organic industry on P.E.I. He feels strongly that the Island could one day be fully organic and become a world-renowned producer of high quality products. He is the past-president of the Certified Organic Producers COOP, a founding director of the Atlantic Canada Organic Regional Network, a board member of the P.E.I. Agrifood Alliance and vice chair of the P.E.I. ADAPT Council.

With his Nuffield Scholarship, Loo hopes to further develop his value chain as well as share his experience and learn from other farmers involved in similar initiatives.

The other 2011 Canadian Nuffield Scholarship recipients include Leona Dargis from Alberta and Kelvin Meadows from Saskatchewan.

Barry Cudmore, president of Nuffield Canada, is pleased with the research planned by all three scholars.
“Leona, Kelvin and Raymond are looking at important issues in relation to the need for competitive and long-term human resources practices, the deciphering of the regulations associated with food exports and the development of value chain initiatives,” he said. “We look forward to the innovative ideas they bring forth as a result of their international travels.”

Nuffield Farming Scholarships are awarded to enthusiastic individuals, between the ages of 25 and 45, wishing to explore topics of their choice in agriculture, land management, horticulture or the food chain.

They provide individuals with the unique opportunity to develop a global perspective on food and agriculture; achieve personal development through study and travel; stand back from their day-to-day occupation and study a topic of real interest to them; access the world’s best in food and farming; deliver benefits to Canadian farmers and growers, and to the industry as a whole.

The scholarships also help these leaders to expand their knowledge and network with top individuals around the world, to promote advancement and leadership in agriculture. A key part of the scholarship is the opportunity for the recipients to study a topic of great personal interest to themselves by carrying out an extensive research and global study tour.

Applications for the 2012 Scholarship are due April 30, 2011.

For more information on Nuffield Canada including application forms, visit www.nuffield.ca .
 

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