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RODNEY DINGWELL: Human element of potatoes

The P.E.I. potato harvest is quickly wrapping up for 2017 with good quality, average yields and strong prices for growers. The industry is worth an estimated $1 billion annually to the provincial economy.
(P.E.I. Potato Board)
The P.E.I. potato harvest is quickly wrapping up for 2017 with good quality, average yields and strong prices for growers. The industry is worth an estimated $1 billion annually to the provincial economy.(P.E.I. Potato Board) - Submitted

Potato industry committed to environmental sustainability; collaboration with watershed groups

I am writing today in response to the opinion piece published in the Nov. 3 edition of The Guardian entitled, “A potato image problem” by Mr. Small and Mr. Clow. The authors make some assertions and accusations in their article that necessitate a response.

Firstly, our recently released P.E.I. potatoes commercial is not “a feeble attempt to avoid responsibility and concrete actions,” as stated by Mr. Small and Mr. Clow. This commercial was created and released to share with both Islanders and other Canadians the human element growing P.E.I. potatoes.

Our industry is dominated by generational family farms that take pride in producing nutritious, high quality food in Prince Edward Island. Consumers are increasingly interested in where their food comes from, so our industry is excited to share this small window on the P.E.I. potato industry with the public, which is increasingly removed from the farm.

Long term, we hope that this video project will work in concert with our other marketing efforts to grow demand for P.E.I. potatoes and bring more prosperity to farm families and all Islanders, given how our industry contributes so much to the provincial economy.

What this video was not about is an attempt at “green-washing” environmental concerns or the industry’s responsibility to the environment. A commitment to environmental sustainability is much more important than a brief reference in a television commercial. The Prince Edward Island Potato Board and the growers it represents are showing their commitment to sustainability in much more tangible ways, including but not limited to:

Collaboration with watershed groups. The board and individual growers have been actively working with watershed groups across the province on projects including nitrate reduction, stream bed restoration, erosion control, and prevention of future fish kills through improvements to field layout and drainage.

Prioritizing soil conservation and soil health through construction of erosion control structures (berms, grassed waterways, etc.), increased use of fall cover crops, residue tillage practices, and adoption of newer rotation crops that build soil organic matter and naturally fight pests and diseases. I am particularly encouraged by the growing number of fields I see this fall across the province with a green cover crop growing after potatoes have been harvested.

Investing industry dollars in research and agronomy, benefitting growers while emphasizing a commitment to environmental sustainability.

There is no doubt that agricultural practices in our province’s past were often less sensitive to environmental concerns, a situation not confined to Prince Edward Island, nor to the agricultural sector. Everyone in society is much more aware of how their actions directly impact our environment, and Island farmers are responding by continually improving their practices with this in mind.

Broad-spectrum pesticides are a thing of the past. Soil conservation structures are commonplace in Island fields. Crop rotations are becoming increasingly diverse and focused on soil health. Nitrate levels in Island rivers and streams have been trending downward in recent years. These are all the result of concrete actions by Island potato growers with environmental sustainability as a priority.

The Prince Edward Island Potato Board welcomes continued collaboration with watershed groups, government officials, and individual citizens that are focused on environmental sustainability and positive action. We are focused on common sense, science-based actions that benefit our soil, air and water and ensure the long-term viability of both the potato industry as well as the Island environment. We have already seen tremendous progress from potato growers and we are firmly committed as an industry to raising the bar on a continual basis.

We feel that the majority of Islanders are proud and supportive of Prince Edward Island potato farmers, and we thank them for their continued support moving forward.

- Rodney Dingwell is chairman, Prince Edward Island Potato Board

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