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Peak Calls Truce In Spud War

“This is in place right away. We’re not going

to enforce anything else.”

– LARRY MCINTOSH

Trevor Schreimer figured something was up when he and other members of the Manitoba Potato Coalition met with Agriculture Minister Stan Struthers earlier this month to lobby against Peak of the Market’s new regulation governing small potato growers.

“He did say very clearly, Trevor, I think you’re going to be very pleasantly surprised at the outcome of next week’s meeting,” Schreimer recalled.

Struthers wasn’t bluffing.

The two sides announced after a brief meeting April 16 that Peak would revoke a previous regulation under the Farm Products Marketing Act limiting to whom small growers could sell potatoes and when.

Although that regulation exempted growers with fewer than five acres of “freshly dug” potatoes from Peak’s authority, it still required growers selling to roadside stands and farmers’ markets to obtain permits from the vegetable-marketing board, albeit on a voluntary basis until 2013.

Potatoes could only be sold during the current growing season. Unsold potatoes after Oct. 31 would have to be donated to food banks.

Those requirements have now been reversed.

Now, potato growers with five acres or fewer are completely exempt from Peak’s jurisdiction. They do not require permits. They may sell year round to small, independent retail grocers and restaurants as well as farmers’ markets.

The same applies to growers with one acre or less of other root crops (carrots, rutabagas, parsnips and onions).

The about-face by Peak comes after a lobby by the coalition against the previous regulations announced by Peak in March. Those will now be repealed. Revised regulations will be sent to the Farm Products Marketing Council for ratification.

Peak will draft the new regulation in consultation with the coalition. In the meantime, the new provisions apply effective immediately.

“This is in place right away. We’re not going to enforce anything else,” said Larry McIntosh, Peak’s president and CEO.

Schreimer credited political pressure resulting from the coalition’s lobby for the change.

“It was quite obvious that from the top down, from the marketing council and the government, there was significant pressure for them to have this issue resolved. We’ve heard that from many quarters in the last week.”

McIntosh denied political pressure played a role.

“I’m sure the government will be happy that we’ve resolved the issue. But they didn’t tell us to do anything specifically,” said McIntosh.

“We were not told to change it. We were not told by marketing council or others to change it.”

Struthers, for his part, wasn’t saying much.

“The minister has met with both Peak and the Manitoba Potato Coalition in the past month and encouraged them to work together to resolve their differences. We’re very happy that both organizations were able to work together to solve their concerns,” said a government spokesperson for Struthers in an email.

The coalition had previously warned that making it illegal to sell freshly dug potatoes after Oct. 31 would jeopardize plans for a year-round farmers’ market planned for downtown Winnipeg.

Some details still have to be worked out, such as the definition of an independent grocer.

Schreimer said his people are glad to see the issue behind them. But the potato coalition will remain as a watchdog for other regulations it feels encroach on small growers.

“For us, it’s about a fundamental right for small farmers to be able to market their product.” [email protected]

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