For years, Robert Green has been growing barley and canola in rotation with potatoes on his farm in Bedeque, P.E.I.
This season, he’s decided to try something new. Green is sticking with potatoes, but he is introducing some different crops into his rotation. They are green and yellow pea and faba bean — crops you don’t typically see on Island farms.
“We’re going to try a couple of new crops here this year,” he says. “I was approached by a company out of Alberta looking to try them here in P.E.I. We’re going to do a little experiment to see if they’re going to work on the farm or not.”
As part of his three-year rotation, Green grows roughly 500 acres of potatoes, most of which are shipped out to McCain Foods and Cavendish Farms for french fry processing.
“We grow I’d say roughly 75 per cent processing,” he says. “About five per cent is our seed plot, and the rest of it is for the fresh market. We’ll grow Gold Rush and the Highland Russet for the fresh market, and Russet Burbank is what we grow for processing.”
The farm has been in the family since 1959, when Green’s dad bought the operation. Almost 30 years later, Green became a full-time farmer himself when he was 18.
Green, who turns 46 in June, enjoys farming and really likes the tranquility that comes when he’s out working the fields in his tractor. “It gives me peace of mind, I guess,” he says.
Green also takes pride in his role in producing food for people. “Knowing I had a hand in growing it, it makes me feel like a better person knowing I produced the safest food possible,” he says.
[We’re] trying to find the best cover crop scenario that we can use in the fall each year that will hopefully help hold the soil on our land, and not have it go into our water, streams and rivers.
In addition, Green, like many farmers, considers himself a good steward of the earth. He’s the chair of a local agri-environmental group composed of young farmers in his area who work with government ag officials to maintain best farm practices, such as buffer zones and water terraces, that reduce environmental impacts and help sustain farmland.
“One of the projects we’re doing here now is with cover crops, trying to find the best cover crop scenario that we can use in the fall each year that will hopefully help hold the soil on our land, and not have it go into our water, streams and rivers,” Green says.
He acknowledges that pesticide use is a hot-button issue in Prince Edward Island, but he believes Island growers take their environmental responsibilities very seriously when applying crop protectants and always strive to be mindful of their neighbours.
“[Public perceptions of] pesticides are our biggest challenge around here right now,” he says. “The farmers aren’t getting the respect that they should be. There’s not one farmer out there, I bet you, that wants to use pesticides if they don’t have to.”
Green says other challenges for potato producers these days include trying to boost yields to keep up with tight competition in the marketplace, and also striving to be efficient in controlling costs while working to improve yields.
Green says potato producers may be benefitting currently from a low Canadian dollar but believes “we’re on the wrong side of the competitive edge in terms of maintaining our market.”
For this reason, Green isn’t terribly optimistic about the prospects for the industry down the road without significant yield improvements. He is hopeful, though, that if potato farmers like himself continue to have good relations with their customers and the industry continues to engage consumers, “this will keep the progress going.”
After all, Green says, “potatoes are still one of the cheapest foods in the world.” And that isn’t something that’s likely to change any day soon.