You can go down to your grocery store of choice and pick up five pounds of potatoes in Canada for a “Sir Wilfred Laurier” and change. Stolid, stable, and starchy, the potato is the essence of a staple crop. A potato plant is a living thing, and it’s no more immune to environmental stress than the next sessile organism, Colin Hodd of Cape Breton Post reports.
Greg Donald, the general manager of the Prince Edward Island Potato Board, has already seen what challenges the future might hold for this crop.
“Plants are like humans. You can do everything you can to keep them healthy and be productive, but certainly environmental stress, climate change, hot temperatures up to a certain point (and) the plants basically shut down to conserve moisture. So, they’re not actively producing and they also are more vulnerable to pests, which creates more challenge.”
The last two years in particular have been a challenge for potato farmers on the Island. The spring of 2018 came late and threw in a late frost as a bonus. The cool, wet conditions made it difficult to plant. Then the summer came, hot and dry, robbing the potatoes of the moisture they need to grow. Then came fall rains.
“In PEI, we abandoned several thousand acres of potatoes that just couldn’t get harvested,” says Donald. “When freezeup came, there were thousands of acres left in the ground.”
Then 2019 followed a similar pattern, leading into the fall, when the hammer really fell.
What happened in 2019 is a reminder that climate change doesn’t come in discrete effects. We talk about higher temperatures, stronger storms, floods, and droughts as though these are separate consequences. But they are all part of the same system, operating at the same time. And so, a crop like the potato can suffer shocks at multiple parts of its life cycle.
“Some of the things we’ve been doing aren’t enough anymore because of climate change and these severe weather events. I don’t want to sound like doom and gloom, but it’s definitely creating a lot of challenges, and farmers are working hard to adapt and make sure that we have good, healthy food and do it in a way that’s good for the environment,” says Donald.
“The next time you’re peeling a pound, consider the future of the potato, because whatever that future is, you’re travelling there together,” Colin Hodd writes.
Photo: The potato harvest underway last fall on Prince Edward Island. – Saltwire