Saturday 19 September 2009

Manitoba potato monopoly [Updated]

Latest updates on the great potato mashup:
  • Erin writes that many of her farmers are under pressure not to speak out against the potato marketing board

  • The Winnipeg Free Press reports
    Now Schriemer claims he's been warned not to sell potatoes anywhere, not even at the farmers' markets, small groceries and roadside stands where he says he sells most of his product.

    "They told me nobody is allowed to sell potatoes unless they are a registered grower through Peak of the Market," said Schriemer, owner of Schriemer Family Farms, whose crop mostly consists of the small creamer potatoes sought out by foodies at farmers' markets and specialty stores.

    In the lingo of industrial marketing, small, thin-skinned spuds are called "immature potatoes." Peak of the Market, which typically sells larger, thick-skinned spuds that mature later in the season, sent Schriemer an order after finding out he sold some more substantial potatoes to Sobeys.

    "Ninety per cent of my market is small potatoes. This year I happened to have marketed my large potatoes to a couple of Sobey's stores, and that was a horrible thing, apparently," he said. "Now they're telling me I can't even sell potatoes in a shack on my own property."

    Peak of the Market, which supplies retailers and restau rants with 120 varieties of Manitoba veggies grown by 40 different producers, has typ ically ignored small producers and retailers in the past, said president Larry McIntosh. Schriemer was sent an order because he sold to a national chain, he said.

    But Peak of the Market is planning to come up with new regulations next year to formalize the way small producers sell to farmers' markets, whose popularity is increasing as more consumers seek out local produce and desire knowledge about the origins of their food.

    "Technically, they're covered under the regulations. Historically we haven't worried about farmers' markets because it's a small acreage," McIntosh said. "I can't speculate until I meet with my board, but we're not go ing to do anything to put out the local producer. We want to do what's best for the industry as a whole."
    The story also has a nice picture of Erin in her shop. Note the very active comments section on the story -- folks seem pretty mad about the potato monopoly. Sounds like there's some pent up anger out there.

Update 21 September

  • The Winnipeg Free Press ediorializes:
    There are numerous marketing boards regulating a variety of producers in Manitoba, although fruits and most vegetables producers have chosen to work through associations rather than a mandatory registration system, complete with penalties for scofflaws.

    The growth and popularity of market gardens, however, reveals consumers are looking for a more direct connection to the farmer, wanting to know the person tilling the land and harvesting the vegetable. Yet, if it's a potato or a root vegetable (except some onions), the small or large farmer must first sell through or to the middle man. So while there are now twice as many days those gar deners can meet the public at market gardens, they are permitted to do so only through the authority of the marketing board.

    That farmers such as Trevor Schriemer have sold their small potatoes outside of Peak of the Market until now was a sign only of the board's indulgence. Because Mr. Schriemer was caught selling to Sobeys, his small spud sideline is off line, now.
    It is a reminder that for some industries, there's no such things as small potatoes, which is how monopolies consolidate power.

    Evidently, that doesn't sit well some small growers. The marketing board should find a way to accommodate their sideline operations or risk losing support among a portion of con­sumers who seek wider choice in the way they connect with food and farmers.

  • Commenter Jim at the above link reports:
    This above story only reflects a single farms battle with Peak of the Market. I'm a potato producer and two years ago our farm signed a contract with a fruit and vegetable wholesaler in Montreal that supplies large red potatoes to restaurants to be used for french fries. Once Peak of the Market caught wind of this contract Peak of the Market sent inspectors to the farm yard who actually brought electronic recorders to try and capture evidence to be used against us to prevent the sale of our produce. Peak of the Market has legislation in their favor that provides them with power to control the selling of root vegetables in Manitoba, this can be and is used against potato producers. Peak promotes itself like a friendly small business but operates with market monopoly, they certainly don't have to play by the same rules every other business is faced to deal with. Making a long story short my farm had to dump 30000cwt of red potatoes as cattle feed which equals 3000000lbs of potatoes because of the battle we faced with Peak and the monopoly they have. Talk about taking a huge business opportunity away from our farm. I also know their are many similar stories from potato producers. And by the way, not all produce sold by Peak comes from Manitoba as consumers are led to believe.


  1. Has the Manitoba provincial government actually given Peak the power to dictate who has the right to grow and sell spuds? Or did the Government enact this legislation? Either way, there's something seriously wrong with a "system" that resembles Stalin's Russia. What concerns me most, though, is that a majority of the population is relatively indifferent to the issue.
    I will not (knowingly) make a Peak purchase of any product marketed by these "Agents of the Law".

    A Luckless Pedrestrian.

  2. Peak of the Market was enabled to write its own regulations regarding the marketing of potatoes in Manitoba, as best I understand it.