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Peak Of The Market To Regulate Small Potato Growers

“What drives me nuts is that now any potatoes I buy from independent farmers are illegal.”

– ERIN CRAMPTON

Manitoba’s vegetable-marketing board is planning new rules to regulate small growers who sell their produce at roadside stands and farmers’ markets.

Peak of the Market hopes to have the regulations in effect by next spring. They are aimed at growers who market quota crops – mainly table potatoes but also carrots and onions – outside the vegetable board.

Until now, Peak has ignored small-scale marketers, although technically they operate outside the law, which requires growers to market quota crops through the board.

But a new marketing plan which took effect in July has created a need for regulatory changes, said Larry McIntosh, Peak’s president and CEO.

The former marketing plan required Peak to give priority to potatoes delivered by small growers, even if they did not hold quota.

NEW PLAN

The new plan removes that requirement, although Peak will still honour it for now, McIntosh said.

Very few small growers deliver potatoes to Peak anyway. Most sell off-farm at roadside stands and farmers’ markets, which Peak is now trying to target, said McIntosh, reached last week by phone at a conference in Whitehorse.

“We know that the consumer wants to be closer to the farmer and we think that’s great because we’re farmers, too. So we want to figure out a way that we can make that work within the regulations.”

McIntosh said Peak will develop rules which will allow growers to continue selling potatoes privately. But some yet-to-be-determined form of reporting, monitoring and compliance will be required.

The Manitoba Farm Products Marketing Council must approve the regulations because Peak operates by provincial statute.

NECESSARY

McIntosh said it’s necessary to bring small growers under the regulatory framework because unregulated potato sales could undermine Peak’s quota and pool pricing systems.

Peak’s product ion quot a for table potatoes this year is 592,077 75-pound bags. Potatoes make up 55 per cent of Peak’s annual sales.

It’s not known how many non-quota potatoes are grown in Manitoba. But consumer demand for locally grown food has grown steadily in recent years.

Peak’s plan has upset some small retailers who say it disrupts their supplies.

Erin Crampton, who owns Crampton’s Market on the outskirts of Winnipeg, said she lost her only supplier of “immature” potatoes last month after Peak told him he couldn’t sell them any more.

Immature potatoes are harvested before full maturity when they are small and thin skinned. They are considered specialty items.

Crampton, who used to sell 2,000 pounds of immature potatoes a week, said she’ll continue to buy regular potatoes from her suppliers. But she objected to the fact that small growers who sell outside the board are technically law breakers.

“What drives me nuts is that now any potatoes I buy from independent farmers are illegal.”

EXEMPTION MYTH

Crampton said she and others have always understood that potato growers with fewer than four acres were exempt from the regulations.

But McIntosh said the four-acre rule is an urban myth. “It wasn’t part of the old plan and it’s not part of the new plan.”

Paul Chorney, community liaison officer for the Manitoba Food Charter, said he hoped ways can be found to allow small growers to skirt the middleman.

The demand for locally grown food is increasing rapidly and producing food at home should be encouraged, Chorney said.

“We’re not saying there isn’t going to be an export market. Of course there is. But if we can grow something, why ship it out and then import it back?

“Manitoba carrots going out of here and importing Cal i fornia car rots doesn’t make sense.” [email protected]

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