Manitoba Potato Production Days started as Horticultural Production Days and has been held annually since 1973. The conference’s main objective is to communicate current and pertinent potato production information to producers. As well, it provides a venue for retailers to promote the latest in potato-production products and equipment.
The History of Our Potato Days
At the height of the events, six organizations were involved and included, vegetables, potatoes, sod farming, nursery production, rice, and fruit. Conference activities were held at the International Inn, Winnipeg for a number of years.
The forerunner of the Vegetable Growers’ Association was the Vegetable Committee of the Manitoba Horticulture Association. At that time, educational meetings for Vegetable Committee were held in conjunction with the HMA Convention held each winter.
After the formation of the VGAM, the industry began holding “educational days” as a regular activity in January each year. Manitoba Agriculture staff (Fred Weir, Bert Sandercock, Nick Sandar, Pete Peters, and Larry Jorgenson) used the organization to stage the series of educational sessions. These began in the mid to late 1950’s. The process was well underway when I began to work for the Department in 1960. (I expect that accuracy of these comments could be improved by referring to the book “A Century of Horticulture” by P.J. Peters and by visiting the Manitoba Archives).
At that time, the educational activity was held in conjunction with the Vegetable Growers’ Association Annual meeting. The event was held in the Agriculture Auditorium at the University of Manitoba and was three days in length. A “commercial” supplier flavour was added by providing tabletop areas for “displays” located around the perimeter of the Auditorium and also out in the header house associated with the greenhouses. Industry participants used coffee and lunch breaks to contact clients.
The speakers, local and out of province, provided information on vegetable and potato production and marketing. The meetings were followed by an Industry Banquet in the evening of the second day. When I first attended these banquets were held at the Dakota Motor Hotel in St. Vital.
The VGAM left the facilities of the University and held one or two sessions (perhaps the mid 60’s) in what is now the Vegetable Marketing Board Building. At that time there was an Auditorium in the facility and a portion of the loading dock area was used for large equipment displays. A few years earlier, Old Dutch Foods started processing in Winnipeg (1957 I think). They were proceeded by “Hunters Potato Chips,” and I believe Irish Cobbler and later Kennebec potato varieties were grown under contract and were supplied by A.R. Chorney, John Chorney, Joe Chorney, W.S. Nebozenko and A.A. Kroeker and Sons. Also, the start for French fry processing began in a small plant in Selkirk (Stephenson). Growers in the immediate area supplied the plant with Netted Gems.
As the activity of the VGAM took hold, the Manitoba Nursery and Landscape Association held similar programs. These examples were followed by the Golf Course Superintendents Association and the Manitoba Strawberry Growers Association (later the Prairie Fruit Growers Association). As these activities became established, the industry suppliers found themselves attending and setting up for individual educational meetings at separate times during the year. Ed Lovelace, an employee of The Gardners Sales Ltd. Approached the Horticulture Section of Manitoba Agriculture and suggested combining these sessions (one time and place) to facilitate greater participation and improved convenience to the various industry suppliers. This seemed like a great idea and a facilitating organization was formed. It was called Horticulture Industry Days (HID) with a board of directors made up of association and industry participants. HID coordinated the staging of individual programs, sold display space to industry, and provided meeting rooms, luncheons, and a closing banquet for all involved. Income generated was used to bring in feature speakers as well as pay for facilities. As the HID became established a Coordinator was hired to carry out the annual activities. These activities were switched to the fall of the year rather than continuing with events in January. It was argued, at that time, providing information in the fall would provide greater opportunity to incorporate this latest information into plans for the next production season.
At the height of the events, six organizations were involved and included, vegetables, potatoes, sod farming, nursery production, wild rice, and fruit. HID activities were held at the International Inn for a number of years. The organization took over all of the meeting rooms and display space for the event. After a successful run and a growing demand for display space, arrangements for the various functions were made with the Winnipeg Convention Centre. Years spent at the WCC were few in number.
As the years passed this “union” of the horticulture industry began to break apart. The number of vegetable growers attending fell dramatically, potato producers growing table stock potatoes declined while number and interests of processing potato growers expanded. Wild rice production did not develop, and the nursery trades and golf people went their own way. As a result, the conference moved to the Keystone Centre in Brandon and soon became the Manitoba Potato Production Days in 2004. With the move to Brandon, the decline of the VGAM and changing interests of the other groups, Keystone Vegetable Producers Association (now Keystone Potato Producers Association) took over the program and have carried out the organizational details and program elements in recent years.
As a closing comment, I would like to indicate that the various organizations and industry participants provided an unparalleled platform to provide the latest in production information and technology to the Manitoba industry over several decades and was one of the key elements in the successful industry that is based in the province. It was great to be part of the activity!
Written and recalled by Garth Stone