Sustainable Farming…

Maine Potato Board

A Review Of The Industry Maine Poatoes 2009

Article

“Before Sustainability became a buzzword, it was Part of the Maine Potato Industry.”

You cannot have a serious discussion today about food production systems without hearing or using the word “sustainable.”  Whether it is the sustainability of a spring water source to meet pumping demands, or the sustainability of agricultural practices, everyone wants the benefit of having their product or service be considered sustainable.

Webster defines “sustain” as to keep in existence; keep up; maintain or prolong.  Sustainability can apply to activities, people, systems, natural resources, financial resources, and even things like peace and your state of mind.  The question becomes “How do you know if something is sustainable?”

Potatoes have been grown in Maine as long as people have been living in Maine.  One of the earliest commercial sales of Maine potatoes took place in 1842.  For the purposes of this discussion we will us the 1842 date as the start of the Maine potato industry.

If you know anything about the Maine potato industry, you know that it is an industry made up of family farms that have been around for over seven generations.  The majority of the potato growers in Maine today are involved in farming because the farm has been passed down from the previous generation.  The capital cost associated with starting a potato farm that would be competitive with other potato growers in North America, is so high that it is not financially feasible to do so.  Primarily due to these high costs, most Maine potato farms transition from one generation to the next within the same family. 

When most people think of agricultural sustainability they think of the natural resources that will be used in agricultural production.  They think of cultural practices that a grower chooses to use as well.  The grower also thinks about these, as well as profitability.  Although today profitability seems to be an idea that should not be discussed, profitability is crucial to the sustainability of the Maine potato industry.  There are a variety of issues and ideas that threaten profitability.  Those ideas and issues range from poor public policy decisions to philosophical ideals to lack of access to information.

How do you know if something is sustainable?  In the case of the Maine potato industry, look at our history.  Maine potato growers have always farmed with future generations in mind.  The sustainability of the farm depended on it.  This is still true today.  The decisions to purchase land, upgrade equipment or adopt the latest technology are not made without thinking about the effect that they will have on future of the farm.  The fact that the potato industry is healthy in Maine is a testament to it’s sustainability.  The reality is that in order for an industry to survive 168 years, it must be sustainable.

Food for thought on sustainability…

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