This week, the North Carolina potato harvest is set to start. Much of the produce will be shipped to Canada McCain Foods, which has just informed its supply chain network that by 2030 it will only purchase potatoes from farms using sustainable practices.
McCain’s is the world’s largest producer of French fries, based in New Brunswick in eastern Canada. The company statement said that it wants its farmers to concentrate on sustainable, or ‘regenerative’ agricultural practices.
Sylvain Charlebois of the Agri-food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University says McCain’s announcement sounds much like those by large food companies including PepsiCo, Nestles, and General Mills, which have committed to specific supply chain initiatives. According to Charlebois, this all sounds good to consumers, but regenerative agriculture includes some very specific practices. This in turn means that some of those will pose major challenges for potato production operations.
Sfntoday.com quoted him as saying: “I think what McCain’s is trying to do is invite farmers to become more efficient and there’s nothing wrong with that. But how can you possibly do no-till in potato growing? You can’t. You may actually compromise yields, you may actually compromise the profitability of many farms. That’s why I think a lot of work needs to be done here, in terms of what this actually means.”
Charlebois says the company’s long-term commitment may not reflect the real world of agricultural challenges.
“The company commits to farming techniques which promotes diversity, practices which minimizes soil disturbance – that’s a big one for potato growing, by the way. And maximize crop diversity to increase water efficiency – that’s another big one. In some areas water scarcity is a big issue. You have to protect against erosion, capture more carbon. These practices are based on specific principles, and this is where things get a little bit muddy.”