June 13, 1950 (21st Parliament, 2nd Session)


James Lester Douglas


Mr. Douglas:

Mr. Chairman, following the remarks of the senior member for Queens- I can never satisfy myself which he is-I wish to say that Prince Edward Island produced about 10 million bushels of potatoes in 1949. We shipped 11,000 cars, which is approximately 8,250,000 bushels. If we take another million for domestic purposes and another million for seed, that is approximately 10 million bushels. As to the price, I sold potatoes last fall in our own district through a co-operative company, and the price paid in November for foundation A cobblers was 75 or 80 cents. Later on it dropped as low as 60 cents per bushel. I think one week it went up as high as 92 cents a bushel to the farmer, which is no more than the cost of production.
I kept a record of a sixteen-acre field three years ago as to the cost of fertilizer, seed and labour, and it cost $112 an acre to produce an acre of potatoes. I kept a record of a twenty-acre field last year, and it cost $116 an acre. You can understand that the growing season has a great deal to do with the crop of potatoes. The average production in Prince Edward Island is 200 bushels per acre, and some farmers get as high as 350 and 400 bushels. The revenue from the potato crop accounts for about thirty-five per cent of our annual income.
A great many things could be said about the potato business as I look back over my years of experience since we commenced producing certified seed. The first thing we should have is sufficient storage to look after our crop. Last year I made a survey of storage facilities in Prince Edward Island. There are 102 stations on the Canadian National Railway where potatoes and turnips are assembled and shipped, and at those stations there are frost-proof warehouses with a capacity of 1,600,000 bushels. If you compare that with our production of ten million bushels you will see that we are far short of meeting our storage requirements. At our own station of Douglas we can store forty cars of potatoes. That serves a radius of about ten miles, or four school districts. We have been operating that warehouse on a co-operative basis for the last three years to the satisfaction of everyone, and the farmers have had good returns.

I believe the grant of $100,000 which we receive from the federal government through the Department of Agriculture, as well as the assistance we get from the provincial government, should be used to the fullest extent possible to provide warehouses at the points where they are needed. At Summerside, Charlottetown, Georgetown and Souris we have large warehouses that are used for only about two months in the year for assembling potatoes for water shipment. However, those are not cold storage warehouses where potatoes could be kept for six or eight months. Our potato shipments are not made in one or two months; they extend over eight months of the year.
I believe we should have more storage capacity in order that the marketing of potatoes could be better regulated. We need an orderly marketing system. During the last few years a great deal of cutthroat competition has been going on among the dealers, large and small. I keep track of the markets in the larger cities, such as Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal, as well as western Canada. Many times I have been in those centres and have seen wires received in the morning quoting potato prices varying from ten to twenty-five cents per bag. You can see how confusing that is to the buyers. If we had an orderly marketing system we would be able to do away with this competition, as well as with the consignment of potatoes to over-depressed markets.
When I was in Toronto this year potatoes were selling for as little as $1.18 for a 75-pound bag, delivered. When you take away the price of the bag and the cost of freight, the dealer back in Prince Edward Island has left only about 60 cents, and you can see what the grower gets after the dealer takes his small commission. In the last eighteen months the freight rate has increased by 16 cents per hundred. For the last ten years the rate to Toronto was 39 cents. Now it is 55 cents. Someone says that can be passed on to the consumer, but I do not know whether that can be done. This high freight rate has made a great difference in the returns to our potato growers.
Over the last twenty-five years our producers have learned all about growing and grading potatoes. As I see it, the only problem now is marketing. As I said a moment ago, if we had an orderly marketing system I believe many of our difficulties would be overcome. We have the finest potato inspection service in existence, both with respect to table stock and seed potatoes. This service has been developed under two able men. One is Mr. Peppin, of the seed department, who I am sorry to say is leaving the service next year because of his age, and

who has done a wonderful job over the last thirty years. The other is Mr. Chester E. Shaw, the chief table stock inspector, who is also retiring in about another year. I am sure everyone who knows what he has done for the potato growers of Prince Edward Island will have a word of praise for him.
I could go on for an hour; in fact I could write a book on the potato business, having been connected with it since 1921. I have seen many ups and downs. Many people have gone broke in the potato business, though for the last few years the growers, and the dealers especially, have done very well. To solve our problems, however, we should have more and better storage facilities, and the growers themsplves should make some suggestions to the government that would bring about a system of orderly marketing. I have been speaking to many people in Ottawa and Toronto who say they would be quite willing to pay a decent price for potatoes, which this year were much cheaper than other foods on the market. I believe we must blame ourselves for this system of marketing, which can be corrected by those in the industry. I do not think we can blame the federal government.
Last year many representations were made to the Department of Agriculture with respect to a floor price. Well, if you start paying floor prices you never get to the end of it. I do not believe in a floor price unless you have control of the acreage, because if a farmer is making the cost of production he will keep on growing potatoes. In Prince Edward Island and the maritimes we are like the people In western Canada; we are great "next year" people; we always hope that next year will be a killer and we will make a lot of money.
I do not believe it is necessary for me to say anything more. The senior member for Queens understands the situation in our little province as well as I do, and I am sure both he and I will be glad to do everything possible to help the potato growers. I should like to give just one quotation that I read in the newspapers, credited to the New Brunswick minister of agriculture, who said: "We are still carrying on the same old antiquated marketing system we had fifty years ago." I thought that was the truest thing I had heard in many a day, and I heartily agree. It is up to ourselves to improve the situation and help our people who, after spending their time and money, after getting up at three o'clock in the morning to spray potatoes, after wearing out machinery, at the end of the year find they have scarcely enough money to pay the fertilizer bill.

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