Innovation the future for the potato industry

Charlotte MacAulay
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Bob Treadway, left, is welcomed to the Island by Gary Linkletter, chair of the P.E.I. Potato Board during its annual meeting in Charlottetown Friday.

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.

Organizations: P.E.I. Potato Board, McDonald's

Geographic location: U.S.A., Charlottetown, Montana Iceland Oregon Prince Edward Distillery Canada

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Recent comments

  • intobed
    November 16, 2012 - 18:21

    Not a single word in this article about using innovation to stop large potato farms from poisoning PEI land and water. We desperately need a better way of farming.

    • Never a positive word
      November 17, 2012 - 08:32

      INTOBED cannot seems to recognize the progress and efforts of our potato farmers. I applaud them for their work to feed people under very risky conditions: price, weather, buyer concentration, etc. We had some of the driest weather on record for PEI this summer, and then the wettest fall. Tough to make a living and produce healthy food. Congratulations and thank you to our farmers.

      November 17, 2012 - 13:27

      Farmers need to seek out niche markets said Treadway, a U.S.A. consulting futurist and foresight adviser............. Every consultant who has ever come to PEI, repeats the same mantra.Niche Marketing. This one sounds like he should be in a carnival side show. Just what the heck is a futurist and foresight adviser.Does he work with a crystal ball? This industry is not a boutique, selling uniqe high priced items to the elite. Potatoes are about as basic as one can get. The same consultants(I assume) are saying the same about the fishing industry,the beef plant and every other operation on PEI. Stop bringing these so called experts "from away" on to the Island to tell you how to run your business. Surely, after all these years as the world's leader in potatoes, there must be someone on this Island that knows what to do.If not, Lord help us.