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United Potato Growers of Canada nears

A strong desire to keep P.E.I. potato growers in busines


March 31, 2008
By Kathy Birt

Topics

A strong desire to keep P.E.I.
potato growers in business is the key factor that has driven Ivan
Noonan, general manager of the P.E.I. Potato Board, to unite with other
provinces in forming the United Potato Growers of Canada.

014_3a
Ira Lewis still enjoys being involved in the potato business at the age of 88. He says he began working in the potato field at the age of eight years. He is seen here at the Lewis’s Potato Packing, Ltd. warehouse in York, where his son, Scott, operates the business.
Photo by Kathy Birt

A strong desire to keep P.E.I. potato growers in business is the key factor that has driven Ivan Noonan, general manager of the P.E.I. Potato Board, to unite with other provinces in forming the United Potato Growers of Canada.

A meeting to finalize the formation of this organization was held mid-February in Toronto, and Noonan, who is co-chair of the steering committee with Garry Sloik of Portage La Prairie, Manitoba, says, “The P.E.I. potato growers are reserving the name P.E.I. Potato Growers of Canada, but individual provinces don’t have to form their own groups like they do in the U.S. We are protected by federal legislation.”

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The initiative (to unite) began south of the border with the formation of the United Potato Growers of America to offset a glut of potatoes on the world market.

The buy-down program that saw U.S. growers reducing potato acreages spread to P.E.I. and was successfully carried out in time for last spring’s planting season.

Through the program, Island potato acreage was reduced by close to 10,000 acres (from approximately 106,000 acres) for the 2005-growing season. As a result, growers were able to look
forward to a better market than they had seen in a number of years.

Scott Lewis of Lewis’s Potato Packers, Ltd. in York says he feels the buy-down was a positive step. “I think growers all over North America realized they were over-producing and supply had to come more in-line with demand,” says Lewis.

The potato producer says since March 2002, prices for potatoes paid to the farmer were below the cost of production.

Now, with fewer potatoes on the world market, the P.E.I. Potato Board is able to report that current FOB prices stand at $1.80 per 10-pound bag of P.E.I. potatoes, versus approximately $0.60 per 10-pound bag a year ago. “And crop movement is better than a year ago,” explains Noonan. “Up to the end of December, fresh shipments (seed and table stock) to off-Island markets were 20.4 per cent higher than a year ago.”

Whether or not the reduction will be put in place for the 2006 planting season remains to be seen, but Noonan has indicated more reduction may be needed.

When the buy-down program was put in place, three growers launched an appeal to the Natural Products Marketing Act Appeals Tribunal, disputing the board’s decision to double the levy on processing potatoes for the 2005 crop in order to fund the buy-down program.

In light of this, the board cannot go back to growers and discuss options for 2006, says Noonan. “The board doubled the levy on all potatoes – seed, table stock and processing – as well as the dealer and exporter levy. But these three processing growers are just appealing the processing potatoes.”

He adds the board will be going back to the growers to begin discussion regarding another buy-down program for 2006, after the tribunal renders a decision.

Lewis believes growers need another year of higher prices. “Therefore, we (Lewis Potato Packers, Ltd.) will be supporting an acreage reduction for the 2006 planting season.”