The potato growing operation Maxi-Sol Inc. is located in Saint-Paul de Joliette, Que., a 45-minute drive northeast of Montreal. Founded in February 2009, the company is co-owned and managed by Ninon Perreault and Francis Desrochers.
“Maxi-Sol specializes in the production of table market potatoes,” says Desrochers, who is also the vice president of La Federation de Pommes de Terre du Quebec, the potato growers’ association in that province. “We cultivate a total of 400 acres of potatoes annually, which is divided between a 30 per cent share for white potato, 10 per cent for red and 60 per cent for yellow flesh potatoes.”
Almost 75 per cent of the harvested potato crop is stored on the farm, while the balance is sold directly off the field during harvest. In a semi-automated packaging centre, Maxi-Sol produces bags of five pounds, 10 pounds, 20 pounds and 50 pounds. Potatoes are sold to large food chains, fruit and vegetable stores and restaurants in Quebec, while some are exported to the United States.
“Due to the consistent quality of our products, our company differentiates and increases its market share annually,” says Desrochers. “In 2014, Maxi-Sol will offer small sizes [of] paper and plastic bags for its different varieties. Potatoes that are packed in smaller size bags is a niche market in the consumer sector and still needs to be developed in Quebec.”
Desrochers points out that the company is well known in Quebec for the production of yellow potatoes. He says Maxi-Sol was the first potato operation in Quebec that started growing the yellow variety Vivaldi and the company is now recognized as a leader in the production of this popular oblong variety.
To ensure a good harvest in the fields, especially on sandy fields, Maxi-Sol uses a linear irrigation system as well as a center pivot, both with variable water application rates to suit the needs of each field and variety.
“With these two irrigation systems, more than 230 acres receive 20 millimetres of water in only 36 hours,” says Desrochers. “The irrigation systems operate at low pressure, less than 80 psi at the pumps compared to the 140 psi to operate reels, also known as self-traveling sprinkler systems. This translates into an energy saving of 60 per cent.”
Maxi-Sol plans to replace the existing reel systems with linear and center pivot systems in the near future.
According to Desrochers, Maxi-Sol faces several challenges.
“In Quebec, standards for the use of phosphorus in inorganic or organic form are strictly controlled,” he says. “Therefore, our company must provide an agro-environmental fertilization plan and phosphorus balance to the environmental department annually. This is time consuming and management intensive.”
Another challenge is combatting scab, considered to be a serious problem in Quebec. In 2013, Maxi-Sol initiated a research project into this potato disease, planting 250 different seed varieties in micro-plots to study how these varieties behave in loam-sandy soils in terms of their resistance to scab.
Maxi-Sol, which maintains close ties with researchers at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Potato Research Centre in Fredericton, N.B., improves its crop production by employing new cultural practices such as applying natural fungi or mycorrhiza at the roots of tubers in the field.
Desrochers notes that Maxi-Sol “is a company that stands out for its social involvement with the farming community and consumers, as well as its concern with sustainable farming practices.” He adds his company operates on the principle of maintaining solid, sustainable growing practices as the only way to ensure a viable future in potato production for the next generation of potato growers.