P.E.I. Exporting Potato Expertise to Canada's North

Published online: Apr 16, 2021 Articles Kevin Yarr
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Source: CBC News

Some communities in northern Canada are looking to become more self-sufficient in food production, and a team of researchers from across the country, including Prince Edward Island, is helping out.

Rick Peters, a pathologist with Agriculture and Agrifood Canada in Charlottetown, P.E.I., is part of a team looking at how potatoes might be grown in the North. Growing in the North presents a variety of challenges, he said.

"Shorter growing seasons, much harsher growing conditions, the soils aren't necessarily that amenable to production of agricultural crops," said Peters.

Northern soils tend to be rocky. That can cause problems at harvest time, because potatoes can get cuts and nicks from the stones, and that provides an entry for disease that can lead to rotting in storage.

The P.E.I. team is looking at varieties with thicker skins that may be more resistant to this problem.

They also have thoughts about speeding up potato growth to get a jump on shorter seasons.

"We're looking at different biodegradable mulches that we can put over the soil after planting and that will warm the soil more quickly and allow the potatoes to emerge more quickly," said Peters.

And growing potatoes in the North may not be an endless series of bad news, he said.

"There might be some pests and diseases that are absent in some of these locations that we do deal with in our southern areas," said Peters.

"That can be an advantage for growing in some of these other northern locations. So we really don't have a lot of information about what is there."

The ability to grow fresh produce could be a huge change for Northern communities, said Peters.

Shipping vegetables North is very expensive, a cost that is largely borne by the consumer, and often when that produce arrives it is not in the best possible condition after its long journey.

Locally-grown produce would be a welcome addition to Northern diets, said Peters.