After years of stagnant growth, the potato processing industry in North America is on the rise. Numerous processors have expanded or opened plants in the last year or two in response to growing demand for french fries and other potato products.
For instance, McCain Foods expanded its potato processing facilities in Idaho and New Brunswick in 2016, and growers in both areas are reaping the benefits.
Blair Young, who grows 600 acres of processing and table stock potatoes at B and C Young Farms in Bedell, N.B., is among them.
“McCain Foods has expanded their production here a fair bit so that’s offering some opportunities to growers,” Young says. He points out that he, like many potato farmers in New Brunswick’s Saint John River Valley, enjoyed a boost in contracted acres this past year as a result of the new production line at the McCain plant in nearby Florenceville.
“It was good news to the valley here,” says Young, who was recognized as one of McCain Foods’ top potato growing partners in New Brunswick at the 43rd annual McCain growers banquet held in Grand Falls, N.B. last August.
Young, 59, has been growing potatoes for more than 40 years, starting right after he graduated from high school in 1976. Today, he farms alongside his son Chad, who is the “C” in B and C Young Farms.
Chad, who is 28, played Junior A hockey for three years before joining his dad on the farm seven years ago. “He’s a great help to me,” says Young.
As agriculture has become more reliant on new technology, Young is grateful to have a young farming partner who’s more technologically savvy than he is.
“Technology is changing all the time, and it is challenging. The younger people have more of a grasp on that because they’ve grown up with this sort of stuff,” he says.
Young notes about three quarters of his potato crop is for processing, with the farm producing Russet Burbank and Shepody potatoes for McCain Foods. The farm also grows Innovator, Goldrush and Superior potatoes for the fresh market.
Young strives to maintain a one in three year rotation with his potato crop. Other crops grown at B and C Young Farms include corn, wheat, barley, soybeans and peas.
Young started his farming career in Jacksonville, N.B. About 20 years ago, he was looking to grow his farm but couldn’t find any available land close by. He ended up moving 11 kilometres to Bedell so that he could expand his potato acreage.
“Everybody wants to grow, I guess,” Young says, noting that he’d consider adding more land to his farm “if the right opportunities come around.”
Young says he continues to enjoy farming because of the variety that comes with the job.
“I like all the changes. You’re not doing the same thing every day. I like seeing what we can grow and watching the crops do well,” he says.
“It’s nice to see if you can do a decent job and grow a good product, something that people want and can appreciate.”
Young believes that due to rebounding demand in both the processing and fresh potato markets, there’re likely more good days ahead for potato growers like himself.
“For a while people seemed to shy away from the potatoes a bit, but they seem to be coming back to them again,” he says.