(Oct. 3) The Canadian-U.S. dollar exchange rate has reshaped the playing field for produce marketers in Canada.

“The biggest Canadian producers compete head-to-head with U.S. growers, and the rising exchange rate has given U.S. imports a better opportunity to be competitive on price,” said Ron Lemaire, executive vice president and director of marketing of the Canadian Produce Marketing Association.

On Sept. 20, the value of the U.S. dollar reached parity with the Canadian dollar, known as the loonie, for the first time in 31 years.

For Prince Edward Island potato farmers, the rising exchange rate hits hard, said Jamie Wood of Cavendish Farms. Nearly 50% of PEI’s potato crop is exported to the U.S., and the exchange rate drives down the price they get.

“As our dollar gets stronger, the cost of imports gets more reasonable, so volumes generally go up,” said Barry Green, president of produce broker Richard E. Ryan & Associates Ltd. of Toronto. On the other hand, the narrower spread between the two currencies leaves little guess room. “For us, the rising exchange rate is almost a wash, a trade-off.”

“When the exchange rate (difference) was 35% to 40%, you could leave a few percentage points on converting the price to make up for any shifts between the time you bought the produce and sold it,” said Steven Weinstein, president of Canadian Fruit & Produce Co. Inc., a melon importer at the Ontario Food Terminal, Toronto. “But with less spread, there’s less room for error — it makes a big difference.”

On the other hand, some operators see a silver lining.

“We have to be competitive on quality, not on price,” said Larry McIntosh, president of Winnipeg, Manitoba-based wholesaler Peak of the Market and president of CPMA.

At the same time, McIntosh pointed out, the more valuable loonie has reduced the cost of imported machinery.

“Many of our growers have taken the opportunity of cheaper U.S. currency to invest in new harvesters, packing lines and other automated machinery,” he said.