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Linkletter Farms: 2010 potato harvest one of the better ones on record

by Christina DiMartino | November 21, 2010
"We finished the harvest in record time this year," Mark MacEwen, a partner- owner of Linkletter Farms in Summerside, Prince Edward Island, Canada, told The Produce News Nov. 9. “We were 10 days ahead of our normal finish. The crop is in storage now. It is high-quality and yields are better than average.”

A strong crop is extra-good news for Prince Edward Island potato producers like Linkletter Farms because potato volumes around the world are being reported as being lower than normal this year. The shortage should result in stronger demand and potentially firmer market prices than in recent years.

The great 2010 crop falls on the heels of one of the worst years that growers in PEI have ever suffered, making it an even more welcomed relief. Mr. MacEwen said that 2009 was the most difficult harvest season on record due to bad weather.

“There are already signs that people are feeling the supply shortage this year,” he said. “We've been getting calls from customers who want supplies that we cannot provide, so shortages in other areas are sparking added interest in our crop. It’s hard to say if there will be a processing shortage this year, but we are hearing that growers with contracts will be able to fill them. The economy is starting to turn around, so that may put some additional pressure on demand.”

The late season potato varieties did not perform as well as the early varieties this year in PEI. Mr. MacEwen said a dry spell late in the season prevented the Russet Burbank varieties from maturing as well as normal. Despite that glitch, he expects strong prices this year.

“That prices will be firm this year seems to be the attitude from everyone in the potato industry,” he said. “Supplies will not be out of sync with demand, and we believe we will ship every potato we have this year.”

Linkletter Farms produces mainly tablestock potatoes. It grows about 1,500 acres of potatoes on its own farm, with a good rotation of hay, wheat, barley and soybeans. It also sources potatoes from growing partners, depending on market demands.

Linkletter Farms holds a longevity record for a North American multi- generational family produce business. The family dates back to the 1400s when the “Linklaters” lived in the Orkney Islands, off the Northern coast of Scotland. As a result of growing poverty there, Linkletter family ancestors made their way to North America to start a new life.

In 1783, George Linkletter moved to Prince Edward Island, and was given land by King George III of England. The family settled on Lot 17, which is known today as the city of Summerside.

George Linkletter passed his farm on to his son, and it continued to be passed down to future generations of family members over the centuries. The company incorporated in 1965.

Today, Mr. MacEwen is one of six family-member co-owners. The others are Gary Linkletter, the company president; his brother, Dale Linkletter, who is Mr. MacEwen’s father-in-law; a cousin, Mark Linkletter; James Marchbank, Mark Linkletter’s brother-in-law; and Tim Linkletter, Dale’s son.

“Linkletter Farms currently has two generations of partners working in the business,” said Mr. MacEwen. “Tim and I are the youngest. Between us we have four children, but the oldest is just three-and-a-half. It’s a bit early to know if there will be another generation coming on behind us.”

Looking to the more immediate future — and especially for 2010 — Linkletter Farms is expecting a good and profitable year.

“This should apply to all PEI potato producers,” said Mr. MacEwen. “We are optimistic for the coming year.”