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P.E.I. potato packaging company gets ACOA funds for upgrades

Wayne Thompson, co-owner of Thompson Potato Company Inc. in Victoria, stands by one of the facility’s recent upgrades – an optical sorting machine for potatoes.
Wayne Thompson, co-owner of Thompson Potato Company Inc. in Victoria, stands by one of the facility’s recent upgrades – an optical sorting machine for potatoes. - Terrence McEachern

A P.E.I. potato packaging company received ACOA funding on Monday that helped it make investments into upgrades that will make the company more efficient and contribute to its plans for long-term, sustainable growth.

The upgrades at Thompson Potato Company Inc. in Victoria include an optical sorting machine and a new ventilated storage area.

To help cover the costs, ACOA provided the business with a $350,000 repayable contribution.

The business was started in 2007 by brothers Wayne and Jamie Thompson. Jamie and his father John run the family farm that contributes potatoes to the business. Thompson Potato Company also bought potatoes from 10 other P.E.I. farms this year, said Wayne Thompson.

Thompson explained the Celox optical sorter purchased from Newtec in Denmark was installed about a month ago.

“For us, it’s a phenomenal tool,” said Thompson.

The machine uses high definition digital cameras that capture images of potatoes as they pass through. The user can input settings that sort potatoes based on preferences such as size, shape and quality. Potatoes are then directed down a specific line based on those settings. For example, potatoes can be identified and sorted based on a larger size for a restaurant customer that wants the product for baked potatoes.

Potatoes can be sorted based on size, shape and quality after they pass through the optical sorter.
Potatoes can be sorted based on size, shape and quality after they pass through the optical sorter.

The machine can be controlled by an attached computer screen or from a separate computer in the company’s office. The machine can also be controlled away from the facility through the Internet.

“It’s an investment. It allows us to do things we couldn’t do before. It allows us to do them quicker and more efficiently,” said Thompson.

The long-term storage room expansion was completed in the fall. The room is about 10,900 square feet with 14-inch thick ICF (insulated concrete form) walls, comprised of eight inches of concrete and six inches of Styrofoam. The room’s humidity, temperature and refrigeration are controlled electronically. The room has four bins that can store one million pounds of potatoes each.

The space allows the company to store and ship potatoes for 12 months of the year, which will provide better quality potatoes for the market later in the season, Thompson said.

Potatoes from the facility are sold and marketed by Garden Isle Farms. Wayne Thompson is also the general manager at Garden Isle Farms.

The ACOA funding announcement was made by Malpeque MP Wayne Easter. On Monday, he visited the facility to learn more about the operations and how the funding is going to be used.

“The industry is constantly changing and constantly in flux. Quality is always number one in the industry. And, this equipment allows you to size and sort into different lines. So, you get the optimum value out of the product and you get the optimum quality for whatever market you may be shipping to,” he said.

“It’s getting the best value for the product that you can, running a more efficient operation and having efficiency of scales right through the operation itself.”

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