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Canada’s British Columbia potato farmers face tough decisions as demand for fries fizzles

Beauty is only a peeler away. B.C. potato farmers in Canada are hoping grocery shoppers will embrace less-than-perfect Kennebec potatoes, a variety that’s usually turned into fresh-cut french fries, as local restaurant demand has fizzled during the COVID-19 pandemic. Glenda Luymes reports for Whig Standard.

The No. 2-grade potatoes sold under the Farmer’s Keepers label are ideal for baking, mashing, roasting and, of course, frying, but they might have a few more lumps and nicks than your typical supermarket spud, said Brian Faulkner, vice-president of business development for BCfresh, which is owned by 31 B.C. potato and produce farms.

“You might have to spend a few extra seconds with the peeler or paring knife, but once you do, you’ve got a wonderful all-around potato,” he said.

Eating fries might not be a national duty in Canada, as some in Belgium, the country that claims to be birthplace of “pomme frites,” have implied, but local farmers are hoping shoppers will choose their produce at the grocery store.

“The pandemic has changed everything,” said Wes Heppell, owner and general manager of Heppell’s Potato Corporation.

Not only have B.C. restaurants cut their potato orders, reduced demand across Canada has led to a glut of Kennebec potatoes on the fresh market. That’s led to downward pressure on prices as potatoes from other provinces find their way to B.C.

Uncertainty about the future has also made it tough for farmers to make planting decisions. Potatoes planted this spring will be harvested in summer and fall, with many put into storage to provide supply through the winter.

“BCfresh has taken a 20 per cent haircut on the acres we planned to plant for food service,” said Heppell. “We’re hoping that will mitigate some of the unknowns.”

Working one year in advance to provide the seed for next year’s crop, B.C. seed potato farmers are also impacted. “The uncertainty is difficult. How do you decide how much to plant?” said Jack Zellweger, owner of Zellweger Farms in Delta.

Read the full report by Glenda Luymes in the Whig Standard here

Photo above: A farmer works among a pile of potatoes, part of which is leftover due to the closure of restaurants and borders following the COVID-19 outbreak, near the city of Mouscron, Belgium on April 29, 2020. REUTERS/Yves Herman YVES HERMAN / REUTERS

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Lukie Pieterse, Editor and Publisher

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