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Prince Edward Island’s most important cash crop is the potato. Our climate, north of the 46th parallel, and our light, sandy soil are ideally suited to high-quality potato production. As of 1997, 652 farms were involved in potato production in the province. Most farmers begin planting in May. However, in some areas, if the soil and weather are right, planting can start as early as April. Harvesting begins in September and then the crop is stored, graded, packaged and delivered to market.

The 1997–1998 potato season saw 112,000 acres of potatoes planted and 111,200 acres harvested. The average yield was 265 cwt. (cwt = hundred pounds) per acre, with a total of 29.7 million cwt. Approximately 38 percent of the total potato production was sold as tablestock or processed on Prince Edward Island. A little over 43 percent was shipped out of province, and 7.5 percent was used as seed for the next year’s crop.

Potato FieldOver the past several years, increasing prices for land and machinery have led to higher costs to potato producers. On the other hand, the Island’s reputation of producing high-quality products in the seed and tablestock markets has guaranteed Prince Edward Island a solid international standing. Tablestock is sold locally on the Island as well as in Atlantic Canada, Central Canada, the United States, and internationally. Island seed potatoes are sold to more than twenty countries on five continents: North America, South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia. The biggest buyers of Island potatoes in 1997–1998 were New Brunswick, purchasing 2.7 million cwt. and the City of Toronto, Ontario, purchasing 2 million cwt. Another 3.6 million cwt. was exported to foreign markets on other continents.

Potato farm sizes vary from a few hectares to larger operations with several hundred hectares devoted to potato production. The average size of a potato farm is 40 to 50 hectares. In an effort to improve soil quality, reduce soil erosion, suppress disease, and control insects—problems endemic to large-scale monocultures—many potato growers are sowing cereal and forage crops in rotation with potatoes. Emerging awareness of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategies is also helping Island potato growers to deal with insect and disease problems in ways that are less damaging to long-term soil quality and surrounding flora and fauna.

Prince Edward Island farmers began producing certified potato seed in 1917, using the two standard varieties, Irish Cobbler and Green Mountain. These two strains are still grown frequently today. The Island’s natural geographic isolation has kept our seed stock relatively free from serious diseases and growers have kept pace with market trends as new varieties have been introduced over the years.

The most popular potato varieties grown on the Island are Russet Burbank, Kennebec, Superior, Shepody, and Sebago. Shepody and Sebago are early-maturing varieties (100 days), while the Russet Burbank, which is especially good for French fries and baking, can take as long as 140 days to mature. The Kennebec variety is a good table potato and also produces a quality chip.

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