Last month, I was kindly invited by CropLife Canada to meet the McKenna family who are 4th generation farmers in beautiful Prince Edward Island (PEI)! Gordie and Andrea McKenna shown above with their family, grow potatoes, carrots and turnips on the red, iron-rich soil which helps to retain the right amount of moisture for the crops.
But it takes so much more than just perfect soil and climate to grow food. Along with hard work and perseverance, the McKennas must navigate issues such as:
- Land management – Preparation for this year’s potato planting actually began 3 years ago with a SWAT analysis (soil, water, air and topography), crop rotation and pest management.
- Soil health – Grid sampling is conducted to test soil samples for nutrients.
- Impact of world events on supply and cost of resources – For example, much of the fertilizer was previously sourced from Russia. With the world events, the cost of fertilizer has risen by 85%!
- Technology – Modern day farmers need to invest in technology and digital tools.
- Labour shortage – It’s a challenge to find staff who understand the machinery and technology required for farming. The shortage of truck drivers in our country is escalating a competitive marketplace between Canadian and European farmers.
- Weather – Climate uncertainties such as early frost or heat domes can pose major challenges.
I had a chance to ask Gordie, “What’s one thing you would like to say to Canadians?”
His reply, “I want Canadians to know just how challenging it is to produce perfect food. It’s a constant pressure on a food producer in Canada to try to be perfect every step of the way. Farmers need more respect from consumers, better understanding and more education in the classrooms for children to see what farming is like today.”
The bottom line is that farming is incredibly hard work. Farmers take pride in growing safe and nutritious food that feed us and families around the world. Watch the Real Farm Lives documentary series to peek into the daily lives of our amazing Canadian farmers!
Other Fun Facts I Learned on My Trip to PEI
- Prince Edward Island is the largest grower of potatoes in Canada, supplying about 25% of all potatoes grown in Canada. There are 200 potato producers in PEI, and 96% of them are multi-generational farmers.
- Plant science includes tools that protect crops from insects / weeds / diseases as well as innovations to develop stronger varieties of crops. Farmers use these innovations to grow food sustainably.
- Cavendish Farms were the first potato producer in North America to convert solid waste to bio-methane gas for energy. The Cavendish Farms plant processes 4 million pounds of potatoes every day and produces 270 bags of French fries every MINUTE – that’s 388,800 bags of French fries each and every day! It can take 9 years to clone a new potato variety. The Cavendish team of researchers developed the Russet Prospect potato which requires less fertilizer and soil fumigation.
- Harrington Research Farm houses a field and greenhouse research facility as part of the Charlottetown Research and Development Centre. Scientists conduct research on integrated crop systems with a focus on crop rotations, soil health, water quality, agronomy of new crop species, crop nutrient cycles and pest / disease management.
Written by Sue Mah, MHSc, RD, PHEc, FDC, Award-winning dietitian and Co-Founder, n4nn. The event was sponsored travel and this blog reflects my own learning experiences.