Potato harvest resumes on Prince Edward Island post Hurricane Fiona

About 10 days after Hurricane Fiona hit the province of Prince Edward Island, Canada, residents, including its potato growers and shippers, are slowly gaining back electricity.

“The entire island has been devastated--the wide swath of destruction is unbelievable,” says Dwayne Coffin of Vanco Farms in Mount Albion, PEI. 

Growers and shippers are assessing their actual farm infrastructure. Photo: Andrew Smith, Smith Farms

In terms of the crop in the ground, Coffin says it will be fine, particularly in the Eastern part of the island. “It was very dry leading up to the hurricane. There was some rain early last week. But thankfully we didn’t get as much rain as they were forecasting in the hurricane,” he says. “We probably got two to three inches but the ground was certainly dry enough to absorb it.”

He notes that there are some lower-lying areas growers will have to keep on watch but towards the end of the week, sunny days looked to be drying out the province and Vanco and other nearby farms have restarted the harvest.

Regaining power
However, with the power out, that puts the focus on moving potatoes. As of Friday, more than 50 percent of PEI had its power come back but in the Eastern part of the province, that number sat only at 35 percent. “Even at our main facility we don’t have power and it’s going on a week now. That makes it tough when we can’t pack potatoes,” says Coffin.

Vanco restarted its harvest of PEI potatoes late last week. Photo: PEI Potato Board.

He says that Vanco had some 15-20 loads of packed product in its coolers when the hurricane hit. “And while we have been shipping since Monday, we’ve pretty much emptied our finished product coolers. We’re able to ship but now we have nothing packed to ship,” he says. He did note that a few smaller producers had backup generators to turn to to run some bagging equipment and pack lines until the power is fully restored.

Electrical crews at work
In the meantime, sizeable efforts are underway to get that power back. Coffin notes that typically there would be 40-50 electrical crews working to restore power but neighboring provinces have sent electrical crews so that number is actually at about 200 crews now. “I’ve also never seen the army before in PEI but there is army personnel here cutting down trees and helping out,” he says, noting the province doesn’t have much by way of underground power so once trees came down, many took power lines with them.

Sizeable efforts are underway to get power fully restored again in PEI. Photo: Maritime Electric. 

Growers and shippers are also assessing their actual farm infrastructure. “The biggest part of the storm was the devastating winds and how long they lasted and how high they stayed. The initial reports were that Charlottetown and east had winds in excess of 100 kilometers for anywhere from six to 16 hours straight,” he says. “Some farms have buildings that are either destroyed with roofs taken off for example, or their structures have been compromised.”

Looking ahead, Coffin says everyone now is getting back out to fully assess the damage. “It’s taken us the better part of three to four days just to see how bad it was out there. Up until Monday, it was tough to get around with trees blocking driveways and roadways,” he adds.

For more information:
Dwayne Coffin
Vanco Produce Ltd.
Tel: +1 (902) 651-2005

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