As Alberta’s potato industry in Canada reels from the devastation of COVID-19, one industry spokesperson says he is worried the mental health and wellness of farmers could be at stake. Jennifer Henderson reports for the St Albert Gazette.
Terence Hochstein, executive director for the Potato Growers of Alberta (PGA), said recent blows to potato farms have stoked his concerns for farm families.
“I’m worried about the growers, the families – the mental stress and the mental strain on the family farms. It’s hard on the spouse, it’s hard on the kids, it’s hard on the workers. That’s where the untold story is – the mental stress and the financial stress on these family farms,” Hochstein said.
As restaurants closed their doors to ward off the spread of the pandemic, potatoes that would otherwise go toward fries and chips sat in producers’ freezers instead. As a result, farmers have been advised to cut the volume of potatoes they grow this year by up to 30 per cent. That means the potato processing industry is facing down a $60- to $70-million loss, while seed potato farmers will lose between $5 and $6 million.
According to Statistics Canada, 54 per cent of Canadians eat out in restaurants once a week or more. The lion’s share of potatoes grown in Alberta get bought up by restaurants, while the remaining potatoes are grown for cooking and eating at home. Last year, the industry produced 850,000 tons of potatoes for fries and chips; overall, Alberta potato growers churned out 1 million tons.
Hochstein said the industry is sitting on some 100,000 tons of potatoes right now that need to be processed by September. As the backlog grew and freezers hit their limits, processing plants such as McCain Foods, Lamb Weston and Cavendish Farms shut down temporarily, partly because they had nowhere to send the finished product.