LIMESTONE, Maine — Maine and Canadian potato growers and McCain Foods executives travelled 12,000 miles south this winter to visit with their counterparts in Argentina to see what they could learn from each other.
The group of 10 New Brunswick and six Maine growers, all of whom have contracts with McCain Foods, traveled to the country in January to observe how they grow potatoes for processing in Argentina, according to Yves Leclerc, McCain’s director of agronomy for North America. Information about the trip was only recently mentioned in the company’s June newsletter.
The growers were accompanied by executives from McCain Foods as they visited potato farming and production facilities in the Balcarce region of Argentina. The group visited farms that supply potatoes for the McCain Argentina plant, which produces french fries.
The cost of the trip was financed by McCain Foods, the growers and the Maine Potato Board, and also by Canadian participants and sponsors.
Leclerc said that McCain Foods has sponsored trips such as this in the past, but it usually brought growers to one of its North American locations, not sent growers this far.
“We wanted to send growers when they were not planting or harvesting their own crops. We chose Argentina because they have varieties of potatoes similar to Maine, a similar climate, and [they use different] technology.”
Leclerc said that the 16 Maine and New Brunswick farmers met with different Argentine growers throughout the week.
They toured different fields, farms and McCain plants and got to know each other better. Several of the fields had just been planted for the first time, said Leclerc, referring to the abundance of farmland in Argentina.
Matt Griffeth, a processing potato farmer from Limestone, said he had a great time and learned a lot as well.
“They have a lot more land over there, so they have more opportunity for crop rotation,” he said. “They also have less exposure over there to potato diseases than we do.”
Griffeth said that Argentine growers were limited mechanically, as they are a few years behind what growers in the United States are using to plant and harvest their crop. He also said that they cannot import a lot of equipment from North America and Europe.
At the same time, he said, farming tools such as drone technology as a precision agricultural tool is gaining ground.
Griffeth also said that an unexpected benefit of the trip was getting to know the fellow growers who made the trip with him.
“I am in Limestone, and there was a group from Grand Falls, New Brunswick, that are just a short distance away from me across the border, and I had never heard of them,” said Griffeth. “It was wonderful to get to know them and compare notes.”
Leclerc said that having the farmers meet and learn from each other was what the trip was all about.
“We want them to start looking at their crops in a new way and start looking at their work in a new way,” he said. “We wanted to give the growers the chance to meet their peers in the region and talk about the issues. From that conversation can come new ideas, new strategies and partnerships. I think it’s a win-win for the industry.”