Brothers and business partners, Kyle and Bryan Maynard find symmetry with sustainable potato farming practices

Potatoes and Prince Edward Island. Impossible to separate one from the other—the famous PEI potato has become a part of our landscape, literally and figuratively.

Fields planted in row upon row of potatoes criss-cross the Island, processing plants dot the landscape, and farm machinery lumber down our roads every spring and fall. There’s no escaping that our small province has become a national and international leader in the potato field (pun intended).

In Arlington you can find two brothers who are quite happy farming their potato fields. Bryan and Kyle Maynard began Farmboys Inc in 2015. Arlington Farms was owned by their grandfather, Allison Dennis, and when he began to suffer from dementia the farm was put up for sale. After some negotiating, Bryan and Kyle bought out 70% of his farm to begin their own.

“We put in our fourth crop,” Bryan Maynard said. “I’d like to say we got it out but, we didn’t, so…” as he reflected on the difficult fall harvest conditions.

An up close look at potato harvesting //Photo credit: Bryan Maynard

Dicey weather conditions, market fluctuations, and unexpected disasters, farming in general is not without its challenges and heartaches, and the Maynard brothers have seen their share. Their father, Kent Maynard, was killed in a farm accident in 1993 and the farm’s name is a nod to the fact that he raised two “farm boys”. As young boys they helped out on their grandfather’s farm, but because their dad was no longer with them, the traditional passing down of the family farm didn’t look promising. When the opportunity arose to buy out their grandfather, they both jumped at the chance.

As brothers, they each bring different qualities to the business. Bryan chose to get an education in business administration, and then returned to working the farm with his grandfather. With his grandfather’s encouragement, Kyle trained as a Red Seal machinist and then worked in the aerospace industry for 10 years, eventually becoming a customer service manager. His experience with international businesses, and the skills he learned holds him in good stead as the CFO of Farmboys. “We separate things right down to the T. He’s the chief financial officer and I am the COO, chief of operations,” Maynard said. “It works great, because we don’t overstep each other at all…he doesn’t want to do my job and I damn well don’t want to do his. And for that reason, it works.”

Bryan is also an accomplished photographer and uses his camera to capture life on the farm as much as possible. The photos he takes depict everyday beauty in PEI’s landscape and his day-to-day life as a farmer. “Cavendish Farms took notice, and started to ask whether I’d be willing to supply them with some pictures, so I did. And I guess the rest is history.” He, like many young farmers now, is actively visible on social media, promoting the life he’s chosen to live and his photography has become a side business—canvas prints of his work are sold online through the Farmboys website and his work has also been sought after by businesses like ADL.

Many of Bryan’s photos are on display at the farm’s office //Photo credit: Cheryl Young/Salty

Arlington Farms was a processing-potato grower for Cavendish Farms. Bryan and Kyle inherited those contracts, and have since negotiated their own. They currently grow both seed and potatoes for processing, rotating their crops with cereal grains, forage, and peas.

“One hundred percent of our sales, for consumption, go to Cavendish Farms. Probably 10 percent or 15 percent are for seed; we grow seed for ourselves for next year, we sell seed, so we are seed growers as well as processing potato growers,” Maynard explained.

The 2018 harvest season was a tough one for PEI’s farmers, with excessive rain causing difficulties for harvest. The Maynard’s farm was no exception, with a little over 200 acres of potatoes left in the ground. “You can plan ‘til the cows come home, but at the end of the day, you just have to be ready to alter the plan, because Mother Nature’s throwing curveballs at you all the time.”

Harvest time was tough in 2018 due to poor weather //Photo credit: Bryan Maynard

Programs like the Alternative Land Use Service (ALUS) are in place on a range of farms across PEI in an effort to create environmentally sustainable practices for the land.

Farmboys Inc participate in the ALUS program and have seen benefits as a result. They no longer plant their “headlands” on their fields (the strip of land at the edge of a field), and have invested in a new method of plowing. “We bought a Pottinger Synkro (that’s a brand name of a new machine)…it leaves some stubble on the top of the ground, instead of flipping everything over,” Maynard said. “It incorporates everything evenly throughout the 10 or 12 inches that you’re plowing. It’s better on wind erosion, it’s better on water…there are a lot of instances where environmental concerns and financial concerns can actually come and meet in the middle.”

Maynard feels that ultimately, educating the consumer about farm practices is key. “I don’t think the consumers are hearing just exactly how much work is put into keeping their food supply safe.” He also acknowledges that most farmers want to farm sustainably, “Show me a farmer who’s not committed to reducing crop protectants and other synthetic chemicals, show me a farmer who not committed to using less, and I’ll show you a farmer that isn’t going to be here in five years anyway.”

Farmboys Inc operates on 3,000 acres, some acres owned, and some rented. As an incorporation, the two brothers and their mother are shareholders, allowing each the maximum acreage to farm by PEI land laws. Those laws were brought into place in 1982 as a way to control off-Island businesses from buying up much of PEI’s farmland, and continue to be a source of conflict and concern among farmers and the community. There have been advocates for the restrictions to be lifted, and Robert Irving, CEO of Cavendish Farms recently stood before the Standing Committee on Communities, Land, and Environment and stated “We believe government should consider doubling potato farm land limits. The family farm has evolved–so too, should the rules imposed on it.”

Maynard acknowledges that the land use laws are complex and were put in place to hamper non-residents from purchasing excess amounts of land, but as he puts it, Farmboys is “tapped out.” He explained, “I’m 35, my brother’s 33, we can’t buy any more land, we can’t rent any more land.” He also is cognizant of the fact that there are ways around the laws, the simplest being to open another corporation, as he bluntly states, “It’s obvious that you’ve already got this many people that are getting around your ‘so-called law’, maybe you should just revisit the law and maybe draft a new one.”

One of Bryan’s popular photos, a map of PEI created out of potatoes //Photo credit: Bryan Maynard

The Prince Edward Island Potato Board also addressed the Standing Committee on Communities, Land, and Environment earlier in the fall with their concerns for the potato farmers of PEI. Greg Donald, general manager of the PEI Potato Board said, “We believe there’s an opportunity to better manage the Lands Protection Act, PEI and its regulations that are currently in place. There are good rules and regulations that are there. They just need to be adhered to.”

Despite the economic benefit for the Island (the potato industry is credited with a billion dollar value each year, and directly and indirectly employs over 12% of the Island workforce), there is often great debate on the sustainability of potato farming. Over the years, concern has been raised over what is regarded as the ‘mono-culture’ of potato farming, and the PEI government in turn, implemented guidelines that require farmers to rotate their crops each year, so that a field is not planted with potatoes year after year.

Donald said, “The potato acres represent, about any one year, 14 percent of Island fields. I stress that because sometimes it’s referenced that a lot of the Island is planted to potatoes.” Donald also mentioned that in the last 20 years there has been a major drop in the number of potato farms on PEI. “Twenty years ago we had 460, today we have 186. The number of acres has changed significantly as well.”

Maynard is optimistic that the industry will adapt to the changing political and environmental landscape. “What is really going to help the Canadian, the American, the Australian farmer is sustainability. You need to be able to do business with someone like Cavendish Farms, like McDonald’s, like Walmart and know that it’s all about sustainability. I think that there’s a push for that.”

He continues his explanation with a note to the consumer, “The way that the consumer can help is by asking these people, ‘where do they source? Where do you source your produce McDonald’s? Where does this come from Walmart? Is this just the cheapest place you could get it from, or is this a sustainable source that you’re getting this from?”

About Cheryl Young

A “Jill of all trades” describes Cheryl to a T. From operating her own handyperson company, to selling luxury cars, to working as a film and TV crew member, her resume is diverse. But her dream as a kid was to be a journalist and she started down that path many years ago at CBC Charlottetown. Returning to her journalism roots, she’s excited to be editing Salty’s content and occasionally writing herself.

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