They may plant in the red dirt, but the Prince Edward Island potato industry is in the black and learned at its annual meeting last Friday in Charlottetown the new European trade agreement will increase exports and reduce tariffs in the years ahead.
"The comprehensive economic trade agreement announced in October will open new markets throughout the European Union and benefit the Canadian economy by $12 billion dollars," said Federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea at the industry luncheon held at the P.E.I. Convention Centre in Charlottetown.
"Current European Union tariffs can impose real burdens on our exporters.[and] on P.E.I. agricultural exports worth $4.5 million annually..it can be almost 14 percent."
Shea said those tariffs and an 18 percent surcharge on frozen french fry products-which make up more than half the entire P.E.I. harvest-will also disappear when the agreement kicks in, possibly by 2015.
Growers were advised during their one-day gathering in Charlottetown that sales of the 2013 crop have increased by 59 percent-with 61 percent to the U.S., 11 percent to Canada and a 109 percent increase to other markets. This year was a favorable season with good weather, and growers in the West and East benefitted more because of regular rain.
"Things have stabilized somewhat and they're working," said P.E.I. Potato Board chairman Gary Linkletter, who said his own Summerside area farm was slightly down this year.
"Every year is a challenge and we are dealing with some problems, but we have better acres in production [across the province] and more in rotation. The next step is to increase productivity."
From 85,000 acres, the Island industry generates $1 billion a year to the economy and is trying harder to boost productivity by harvesting more potatoes from each acre, rather than planting more acres to get more potatoes. For example, for each potato a P.E.I. farmer harvests from one acre, a Wisconsin farmer harvests two. That's because of such extensive irrigation that P.E.I. would also like to see expand.
"Things are looking good," said Kevin MacIsaac, chairman of the United Potato Growers of Canada, which mandates itself to balance North American production with consumer demand.
"Sometimes growers have short memories and a few good years have one thinking about moving things up. But when you get in a negative position (too many potatoes and not enough sales) you are more willing to talk about making sure business works."