P.E.I. potato farmers should look to ‘future-proofing’ their farms for both large and small acreages because there is a sustainable, bright future ahead for both types of operations in the province.
The good news message was delivered to farmers attending the P.E.I. Potato Board’s annual general meeting Friday in Charlottetown by keynote speaker Bob Treadway.
Farmers need to seek out niche markets said Treadway, a U.S.A. consulting futurist and foresight adviser.
"It's my belief that in order to be successful in your industry in the future you want to be able to differentiate your product against the competition and even smaller operations can move in that direction," he said.
Treadway looked to emerging trends to get his point across, noting McDonald's, one of the biggest customers of contract potatoes, had their largest financial loss in nine years over the last quarter.
Another potential market loss is the fact that the US is teetering on the brink of falling back into recession causing job growth to stagnate.
There is no doubt job loss is affecting U.S. markets for P.E.I. potatoes, but it's not all doom and gloom said Treadway who has over 25 years experience in helping companies strategize for the future.
He provided three examples of farms in the U.S. who have used innovation to stay relevant in their field.
A 6,000-acre farm in Oregon has diversified crops and found markets, in places like the pet food industry, not seen before as a viable place for crops.
In Montana, an 80-acre dairy farmer found urban life encroaching on his borders so he embraced it, and has turned his manure lagoon into a pristine body of water and the manure into compost through technology and innovation.
In a move also seen here on the Island, another Montana farm couple enhanced their way of life through a community-sustained agriculture operation where the customers invest in the operation of their 30 acre farm.
Treadway said while those weren't potato farms, flexibility and innovation can work in the potato industry too.
He points to the Island example of Prince Edward Distillery using potatoes to produce their vodka as well as the ever expanding gourmet food market.
Treadway's comments didn't fall on deaf ears as Alvin Keenan, one of the 120 potato farmers and industry workers taking in the speech, said it was good to hear about opportunities for the little guy.
"It was one of the finest examples of 'bigger isn't always better' that I've heard,” said Keenan who is also on the executive of the Canadian Horticultural Council.
He said these innovations can be applied on everything produced in Canada.
"By considering, not predicting, the future of your industry you can be sustainable,” said Treadway.