Seed potato producers digging for business 

Government funding helps farmers develop Internet marketing tools

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The simple potato is a complex part of the food industry for our area. Special steps have been taken to ensure the soil in Pemberton is kept pristine and the seed potatoes grown by Pemberton producers are free of disease.

The provincial government has set aside $5,000 to help the B.C. Certified Seed Potato Growers Association (BCCSPGA) develop some marketing tools to help sell those seed potatoes.

There clearly isn't much value to be realized from potatoes that don't have a purchaser.

"This project promotes the benefits of B.C. certified seed and the role the B.C. seed potato industry plays in the production of quality seed," says Bill Zylman through a news release to announce the Internet initiative.

Zylman and other farmers across the province are currently putting in long days getting crops into the ground.

According to Robert Butler with the BC Potato and Vegetable Growers Association, farmers are working from dawn until dusk right now. He notes that some potato varieties will be ready for harvest in June. Through the course of the summer other varieties will mature and he says potato harvesting will end in October.

"What you've got right now is seed potatoes going out to farmers, who will actually cut them and put them in the ground for seed," says Butler.

The growers in Pemberton are shipping out seed potatoes that have been years in the making and getting the next crop of seed potatoes into the ground.

Back in 1945, Pemberton was given Seed Potato Control Area designation. This means buyers of Pemberton seed potatoes know they are getting a certified virus-free tuber. Pemberton is thought of as one of the very best sources for seed potatoes in all of North America. Building a reputation like that isn't easy and maintaining that kind of reputation takes work.

The Pemberton Farmer's Institute (PFI) website describes the seed potato process quite well: "A truck-load of Pemberton seed that leaves the valley in February got its start three years earlier as a single cell plantlet (referred to as "Nuclear Stock") in the Seed Propagation Facility located in the valley," reads a page on the PFI website.

Nuclear Stock is planted each spring to produce Elite One potatoes, we learn from the PFI website, and that crop is planted in the spring to produce Elite Two potatoes the next fall. Then that crop is put in the ground to produce the potatoes that are ultimately sold to potato growers across the continent.

The BCCSPGA plans to develop a website, social media tools and a mobile application. It was like a high-tech injection for potato farmers. The project is designed to connect seed purchasers and producers through a web-based, market-exchange tool and improve access for B.C. consumers to potatoes grown from B.C. certified potato seeds.

There are only about 20 growers of certified seed potatoes in B.C. and about two-thirds of what they produce will be shipped across the border. The purchasers who go with Pemberton product are guaranteed to get seed potatoes that are free of disease. There is no app for that.

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