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The Prince Edward Island potato crop got off to an early start this year, according to Greg Donald, general manager of the Prince Edward Island Potato Board in Charlottetown, PEI. Planting was completed 10-14 days earlier than normal.

"We've had an excellent growing season," he said. “The fields looked as good as we’ve seen them in a long time. As usual with any crop, there are minimal issues here and there, but nothing major. A dry and hot spell late in the season followed by a rainy period had a little impact on the overall crop. In all, we expect yields to be just above average, and very good quality.”

PEI growers planted approximately 84,500 acres of potatoes this past spring. That figure is down by about 500 acres from 2009, but volumes are about the same as prior years. There are about 320 potato producers on PEI today, which is also the same as in recent years.

As of Nov. 9, about 90 percent of PEI’s potatoes had been harvested. Mr. Donald said some rain in late October and early November set a couple of growers behind their annual goal of being completed by the end of October.

“Things are in good shape in PEI,” he said. “This is certainly good news after the bad 2009 harvest. About 3,000 acres of potatoes were left in the fields last year. They won’t be leaving behind anywhere near that amount this year.”

For the fresh side, PEI growers are pro-active and continually look for new potato varieties. They produce a full range of red, white, yellow and gold rush varieties, as well as fingerlings and other specialty potatoes. Russet Burbank potatoes are produced primarily for processing.

Mr. Donald said prices are trending better this year, and that demand for PEI potatoes is higher due to low volumes in other countries.

“The Northeastern United States is a traditionally strong export market for us, but we ship all over the world,” he said. “Export sales to the Caribbean are currently strong, due primarily to the reduced volumes and lower quality crops reported across Europe and Russia. Recent reports are that North American acreage is also down this year. Someone’s misfortune is always someone else’s fortune, and that rule applies to the produce industry.”

Mr. Donald said that prices in November were not reflecting the supply and demand theory, but noted that it was still very early in the season.

“We will know more as we move forward,” he said. “It looks like the equation will be in line to benefit PEI producers. With the worldwide shortages, we expect to see prices firming up as we move forward. A good year will help growers put money back into growers’ systems and enable them to catch up a bit, but it does not mean they will get rich.”

The PEI Potato Board was on hand at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair — the world’s largest indoor agricultural and international equestrian competition — Nov. 5-14 in Toronto. Mr. Donald said that approximately 350,000 people attended the fair and many of them visited the board’s exhibition booth where they received free samples.

“The fair gave us many opportunities to talk to people,” he said. “These conversations help us to understand consumers’ needs and desires. Our packaged products’ promotion starts in November, so the timing of the fair is perfect for showcasing PEI potatoes.”

The PEI Potato Board is once again holding its annual “Pack Your Appetite” contest. Consumers can find a PIN code on select PEI potato paper bags and on PEI potato polybag clips. They enter the PIN on the web site or submit it by mail. Two grand prizes are trips to Prince Edward Island. Other prizes include grocery store gift cards and copies of Flavours of Prince Edward Island: A Culinary Journey, a cookbook by Jeff McCourt, Alan Williams and Austin Clement.

“We team up for the contest with the PEI tourism department, and with Michael Smith, a well known Canadian chef who lives in PEI,” said Mr. Donald. “The contest is always a great success. Last year we had over 114,000 entries.”

Another perk for the PEI Potato Board this year was a visit and filming of the Canadian Broadcast Corp.’s “Rick Mercer Report” weekly television show. Mr. Mercer is a top billing Canadian comedian and host of the show. The segment was scheduled to air Nov. 16, about a week after Mr. Donald spoke to The Produce News.

Potatoes have been grown on PEI for many years. Mr. Donald said that like most potato-producing areas of the world, production has fallen off in PEI along with reduced consumption in recent years.

“Our acreage peaked here in 1999, with about 113,000 acres,” he said. “The industry in PEI is strongly focused on market-oriented production, and they increase yields as demand dictates. PEI producers use the most sophisticated growing techniques, and they offer an outstanding product.”