CORNWALL, Prince Edward Island – Farmers took a historic first step Wednesday toward cutting the amount of potatoes planted on Prince Edward Island.
Growers overwhelmingly agreed to cap potato production at 2003-04 levels, or at 114,000 acres.
The actual vote numbers were not released but the Charlottetown Guardian reported the motion in favor of a cap passed 149 to 33.
While the majority of farmers believe a limit is the way to go, many who spoke during a nearly four-hour meeting said production has to be cut even more – to less than 100,000 acres.
Only then, they said, will they be able to stop destroying perfectly good potatoes because they can’t be sold.
Dwight Gardiner, chairman of the Prince Edward Island Potato Board, said there are too many potatoes being grown, not only in the province but across North America.
“I think it’s what we needed for our industry to move forward,” Gardiner told reporters after the vote.
Potato production hit a high of 116,000 acres in 2000. That was repeated again in 2002 but for the last two years it has dropped to 114,000 acres.
Despite the cut, farmers are still being forced to destroy potatoes in an effort to drive up prices. This year alone, more than 2,000 acres of potatoes are expected to be destroyed.
Paul Dawson, who farms in Augustine Cove, said production must be cut even more.
“People should realize you’re just losing money by putting more potatoes in every year,” he said. “I think we all know we’re losing money.”
The Prince Edward Island government and the Irving family of New Brunswick are weeks away from signing a deal for a multimillion-dollar expansion to Cavendish’s potato-processing plant in New Annan.
Fearing another spike in potato production, the province said it wanted a cap before it would agree to the expansion. Cavendish Farms opposed a limit and expressed concerns about a potential cut in production.
“I think our company can live with a [114,000 acre] cap,” said Blaine MacPherson, who represents Cavendish Farms.
The province and the Prince Edward Island Potato Board will meet late this month to iron out the details of the cap.
Agriculture Minister Kevin MacAdam said the province will enforce the limit.
“It has to be mandatory,” he said. “We’ve been telling industry all along that they have to come up with a process. Government’s not telling them how to do it, but government is expecting them to do it, put it in place, and make sure it’s transparent and enforceable.”