by Heidi Riley
“On PEI, agriculture is our number-one industry, and potatoes are the largest portion of that industry,” says Greg Donald, General Manager of the PEI Potato Board.
“Agriculture is a pretty cool business to get into, whether it is on a farm or in the industry. It can open many doors, and there are more opportunities now than there were 30 years ago.
“There is no more satisfying work than being involved in the production of food. PEI is a small place, but we produce 2.5 billion pounds of potatoes every year, which is enough food to feed more than 25 million people.”
The potato industry contributes significantly to the economy and the labour force of PEI. In 2020, the Department of Agriculture and Land released a study called The PEI Potato Sector: An economic impact analysis.
The study revealed that in 2016, the potato sector generated $1.35 billion on PEI, created 5,016 full-time equivalent jobs in the province, and generated $240 million in wages.
PEI produces more potatoes than any other Canadian province. On average, between 2009 and 2018, potatoes represented 78 percent of total PEI crop cash receipts.
“I have been in agriculture for close to 30 years, and it has never been more exciting to be part of the industry,” says Greg. “The opportunities are endless. For young people looking for exciting careers, many things have changed. Because of labour challenges and the drive to become more efficient, equipment is changing and becoming high tech.
“With advancements in technology in operating the farm and in agronomy (soil science) and research, there is tremendous demand for people to take on exciting careers. There are more opportunities than there are people to fill them.”
Greg says technology has changed dramatically over the last few years, and even driving a tractor takes specific knowledge and experience. “Getting into a tractor these days is like climbing into the cockpit of an airplane with GPS navigation systems and monitors.
“Today’s tractors help with precision measuring and managing to save fuel and reduce pesticide and fertilizer application. Potato drills are exactly 36 inches from the centre of one row to the next, and every seed piece is measured and recorded as it is planted.”
A wide range of careers
In the spring planting season, which runs from late April until early June, farmers look to hire Tractor Drivers, Seed Cutters, and Labourers. In the fall, Harvesters, Tractor Drivers, Class 3 Truck Drivers, and Potato Graders are the most popular hires as casual employees.
There is full-time employment in such areas as ag research, engineers, sales & marketing, agronomists & crop advisors, precision agriculture specialists, and more.
“Many larger farms now have their own Agronomist with a BSc in Agricultural Science so they can monitor food safety and integrated pest management programs and storage systems and continually do on-farm trials to make improvements.”
Off the farm, there are jobs in research with agriculture firms and with government departments such as Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.
“There is a ripple effect as potato farming affects other jobs such as suppliers of farm equipment, fertilizer, and potato seed, which can be highly technical,” says Greg.
Suppliers and dealers include Cavendish Agri Services, McCain, PEI Agromart Limited, Green Diamond, HJV Equipment, and Kensington Agriculture Services. “Even driving a delivery truck for Frito-Lay is part of the potato industry.”
There are also jobs in insurance and in lending institutions such as Farm Credit Canada and banks, which have specialized staff who deal with farmers.
Greg Donald’s employment path
“I didn’t grow up on a farm, but I did live in a rural community, and I spent a lot of time on the neighbouring farm. It sparked my interest, and I took a BSc in Agriculture at Dalhousie University and then went on to UNB.”
Greg received a Nuffield Agriculture scholarship, which allowed him to study the global potato industry. He is now on the Canadian board of that organization and is also on the board of the World Potato Congress.
“For me, it has been quite a journey. Agriculture has allowed me to further my education and earn an MBA while working in the industry. There are exciting opportunities both locally and internationally.
“I am amazed at PEI’s farming and agricultural businesses. They are leaders internationally. Farms on PEI are relatively small compared to those in other countries, but here our focus is on getting better, not necessarily bigger. Because of our smaller acreage, we need to get a premium price for our products, so we focus on improving the soil and producing higher quality potatoes to meet the needs of our customers.
“There are fewer farms than in the past, but because of the changes in technology and the focus on building the soil and doing things better, the opportunities for supporting roles are tremendous.”
Agriculture education available
Greg says it takes a certain type of person with the skills, knowledge, and aptitude to work on a farm. “Much of the learning is hands-on while working on a farm, and the PEI Farm Technician Apprenticeship Program is a great way to get trained in the industry.”
For those who want to pursue careers in agricultural business management, Dalhousie Faculty of Agriculture offers several programs including a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture.
Best way to apply to work in the potato industry
Visit www.peiagsc.ca/employment.php for a list of open positions. Job seekers can sign up to receive a notification when a new job is listed. Jobs are also listed on Facebook and Twitter.
“Dalhousie Faculty of Agriculture also has a job placement office,” says Greg. “Job seekers could also contact the PEI Potato Board and we can get them in touch with folks in the industry. The PEI Potato Board website has a list of potato growers, dealers, and exporters you could use to start your job search.”
For more about the PEI Potato Board, visit www.peipotato.org.
For the study called The PEI Potato Sector: An economic impact analysis, click here. For more about the PEI Agriculture Sector Council, call 902-892-1091 or email [email protected]. Visit www.peiagsc.ca.
For more about the Dalhousie Faculty of Agriculture, visit www.dal.ca/faculty/agriculture.html.
For more about the Nuffield Agriculture scholarship, visit www.nuffield.ca.