Outlaw potato farmers of Manitoba

While other jurisdictions are known for their outlaw dairy farmers who insist on supplying people with raw milk, Manitoba, it seems, has “outlaw potato farmers”. What is the world coming to, when a farmer can’t even grow and sell something as basic as potatoes, of all things, without the sanction of some trade organization? And yet, perhaps this is just the micro-scale manifestation of governments giving their power away to the likes of GATT, NAFTA, WTO, and other trans-national unelected power brokers. So here’s a glimpse into the life of  one Manitoba potato farmer who was turned into an outlaw by a change of marketing regulations in the middle of the growing season [what were they thinking?]. Thanks for this story to Crampton’s Market (in Winnipeg, Manitoba), and to Beverley and Lois (who told us about it) — “Bad News for Manitoba Potato Eaters…. and Growers“:

Once again, its the little guy who gets shafted in this supply management power play. Photo from Suderman Brothers Farms, one of Manitobas larger potato growers.

Once again, it's the little guy who gets shafted in this supply management "power play". Pic from Suderman Bros. Farms, one of Manitoba's big potato growers.

“We were supposed to receive 2 more deliveries of those beautiful small new crop potatoes this week. That was before Peak of the Market served my farmer with a cease and desist order. The farmer ignored the papers served to him at first. Then Peak of the Market lawyers showed up at his door with fines unless he stopped marketing his potato crop. This left him with the choice of harvesting the crop to give away to foodbanks, or to destroy the potato crop. The purported fine was for lot of money so my potato farmer destroyed some of his fields by tilling them up, and harvested the remainder of the crop, delivering it to a hutterite colony nearby.

So right you you are probably wondering what the FRICK is going on!! I’ll bet that you all thought that Peak of the Market supported small Manitoba farmers, that is what is implied in their TV commercials. Here’s the scoop.

Peak of the Market family fun day. Window dressing for a food monopoly?

Peak of the Market family fun day. Window dressing for a would-be food monopoly?

Peak of the Market legally controls potato production in Manitoba. Until this year, farmers who did not grow potatoes for Peak of the Market were allowed to grow 4 acres of potatoes to sell on their own. This year Peak of the Market changed the rules as of July 15th. Now farmers are not allowed to grow potatoes to sell unless they have a Peak of the Market quota and sell only to Peak of the Market. This includes small gardeners who wish to sell at farmers markets, as well as farmers who wish to sell to independent grocery stores like mine. It is now illegal to grow and sell your own potatoes in Manitoba. Peak of the Market has the legal authority to fine farmers who break these rules, and the fines are high.

More fun from Peak of the Market family fun day. Peak of the Market photo

More "little guys" at Peak of the Market family fun day. PoM photo

Because I still want to purchase potatoes from local small independant farmers, I will no longer be posting where our potatoes come from, and I will be telling neither my staff nor my customers the names of the farmers who produce them. This is to protect these growers from Peak of the Market legal action.

Here’s the kicker. It is legal for these local farmers to import potatoes from BC, Alberta, Ontario, or the US for resale. But they can’t legally grow their own potato crops to sell.

This action by Peak of the Market to protect their monopoly outrages me. But every action of theirs has been legal! You should be mad too. WRITE TO YOUR MLA, click the link below to find your MLA’s contact details”

http://www.manitoba.ca/legislature/members/alphabetical.html

This story is also reprinted and commented on here, on NewWinnipeg.com

Comments from that posting:

Eastsider: Thats total bull, and I know that for a fact. My brother works for a 4000 acre potato farm in southern MB, they have a contract with McCain’s, NOT Peak Of The Market. I know theres at least 3 other large potato farms out there, I cannot speak for those but I definitely know about Suderman Bros Farms near Winkler. And to even suggest they are being forced to destroy crops is laughable at best.

Shaynelle: Sorry, my bad. I meant to say this is a newsletter from Crampton’s market. Like I said, I’m sure this isn’t the whole story but I can’t imagine them lying about this. Whichever it is, I hope it comes out in the news and soon. I can’t imagine a news cast not wanting to do a story on this (if there is indeed truth to it).

Harvesting potatoes at Suderman Bros. Farms in Manitoba

Potato harvest at Suderman Bros. Farms in Manitoba

Eastsider: Just to confirm what I said I phoned my brother after supper……Suderman Bros Farms definitely sells about 60% of their crop to McCains @ Portage La Prairie, the remaining 40% is sold to the USA market. Southern Potato, another large outfit in southern MB has contracts with Old Dutch Potato Chips, Hostess Foods, Naleway Foods,Peak Of The Market, and the remainder is sold to the USA.He said they have set contracts written up prior to spring seeding, if they are unable to fulfill the quota on the contract they have to purchase potatos from other farms to make up the shortfall. He has never not ever heard of anyone having to destroy their crops, and POM definitely does not have the Manitoba Monopoly on spuds. Someone better get their facts right before they defame a fine company like POM.

And now, here’s a story on the same issue from a mainstream news outlet, the Winnipeg Free Press, titled “Peak of the Market, potato farmer square off“, by Bartley Kives:

A small Manitoba potato farmer claims he’s being forced underground by rules that re quire all provincial spuds to be sold through Peak of the Market.

In August, the provincial vegetable marketing board sent Otterburne-area farmer Trevor Schriemer a “potato general order” that requires him to document where his taters were travelling after learning he was selling some of his crop to Sobey’s, a na tional chain. Under Manitoba regula tions, all potato farmers must sell their spuds through Peak of the Market, which charges a small levy in exchange for the ability to pool, brand and market their produce.

More fun at Peak of the Markets family fun day. PoM photo

More fun at Peak of the Market's family fun day. PoM photo

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 restaurants 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 for malize 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

Sorting spuds at Suderman Bros. Farms.

Sorting spuds at Suderman Bros. Farms.

“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 going to do anything to put out the local producer. We want to do what’s best for the industry as a whole.”

Small producers and organic vegetable growers have no reason to be afraid of tak ing their product to Peak of the Market, added Debora Durnin-Richards, the acting director of boards, commissions and legislation for Manitoba’s Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives.

Peak of the Market ensures competition be tween farmers remains fair and assures con­sumers their food is safe, she added.

But small retailers and farmers’ markets claim the marketing board is offside with a growing number of locavores in Manitoba.

“People in this province have no idea Peak of the Market controls the potato market. I’m ticked off. Everyone in the industry knows they’re trying to capture market share,” said Erin Crampton, who owns Waverley Street grocery Crampton’s Market, which buys produce directly from 50 growers. “I have customers who believe these ads with Larry McIntosh talking into a carrot, saying ‘local, local, local.’ It’s incongruous.”

Farmers who want to grow on a small scale and cut out the middleman have no interest in vegetable marketing boards, added the spokeswoman for Winnipeg’s largest farmers’ market….”

Like everything else in agriculture these days, potato farming is big business for some folks. Guardian photo

Like much else in agriculture, potato farming is big business for some folks. Guardian photo

Tractor harvesting potatoes photo from the Guardian

Peak of the Market family fun day photo from Access Winnipeg.

Other family fun day photos from Peak of the Market website.

6 Comments

Filed under News

6 responses to “Outlaw potato farmers of Manitoba

  1. thebovine

    Just to clarify, when we are using the word “outlaw” to refer to farmers in this story we use it in a figurative rather than a literal sense. For instance, the legal status of obtaining raw milk in Ontario was described by one cow share member as follows:

    “The only arrangements of which I personally am aware by which individuals and families currently may receive raw milk in Ontario are as follows. Quite possibly other arrangements could also exist.

    Consumers of raw cow’s milk in Ontario who get it unprocessed are farmers on the farm and other people who own a cow.

    Cowshare owners at Gencolton Farms (www.glencolton.com) pay the farmers a service fee for caring for their cows, which it has been my understanding would include microbiological quality control testing of milk samples. The service fee is calculated based on their dairy consumption; it’s a fee-for-service based rate.

    If you owned a cow share, it is my understanding that you would be entitled to receive a share of the available milk .

    The legality of the safe distribution of this food off the farm (weekly since at least 1991) has been disputed by ministries of the government of Ontario and was the subject of a trial of a farmer, Michael Schmidt, for which a verdict evidently is scheduled to be announced 21 January 2010.

    Michael Schmidt was convicted of a related contempt of court charge after he failed to appeal a court order to cease and desist bringing the cowshare owners’ milk to them in York Region, granted at the request of York Region (health department, I think it may have been), who had offered to leave him alone if only he went to Toronto instead.”

    Likewise with the potato farmers in this story, I very much doubt that the asserted “right” of trade regulations to prohibit small farmers from growing and selling potatoes would stand up in a court of law, assuming the case was well argued from fundamentals of common law, such as the right to contract.

    So we don’t really think these farmers are “outlaws”. It’s probably more accurate to describe those who conspire to prevent farmers from freely going about their work to grow and supply food who would most deserve the name.

  2. Josh

    Unbelievable, that in a so called free country, a small minority of producers would get the government to control everyone and force everyone to go through them with their sales and production..the result, potatoes priced at a dollar a pound for substandard quality..when the price should be about 25 or 30 cents a pound…that iswhat you get when you allow socialists to control your country..welcome to police state KANADA!

  3. W. Manchulenko

    Its a sad case that we as producers cannot sell quality and I mean quality small potatoes too anyone that wants them, ist gotten to the point in todays society we are getting over regulated by larger farmers , my wife purchased some at a local store from Alberta and yet they are not regulated because teh product was uneatable

  4. AnneMarie

    Sounds like we should organise a “Peak of the market” boycott if they don’t “cease and desist” in their monopoly.

  5. Jim

    how bout shutdown Peak of the Market for it’s criminal actions of violating people’s rights?

  6. P.F.Simpson

    We have experience eating POM products so much so, that we now refuse POM products in our house. We refuse to buy it.Period!

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