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P.E.I. Potato Prices on a Tear

P.E.I. potatoes fetched good prices in 2016, continuing a trend that stretches back to 2004. The strong performance for Island spuds was shown in the farm product prices indexed released by Statistics Canada on Feb. 27. The index, set at 100 in 2007, reached 169.3 for potatoes last year, which was well above the national index of 149.1. It was a big jump over P.E.I.’s 2015 index of 150.2. Potatoes led an increase in the index for all farm product prices on P.E.I. The index in 2016 was 144.7, up from 139.2. The increase in the total index also dates back to 2004. Since 2004, the index is up 119 per cent for potatoes and 71 per cent for all products.

New Brunswick Gov’t Supports Expansion

The New Brunswick and federal governments have announced a contribution of $867,000 to help the Covered Bridge Potato Chip Co. with an 836-square metre (9,000-square foot) expansion. This will allow the company to improve efficiency, optimize operating space and increase production. Covered Bridge Potato Chip Co. makes old-fashioned kettle chips with dark russet potatoes harvested from the family company’s 200 hectare (500 acre) potato field at Albright Farms. The provincial government contributed $367,000 through a forgivable loan from Opportunities NB. The federal government, through the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency’s (ACOA) Business Development Program, provided a repayable contribution of $500,000 for the project. According to company president Ryan Albright, the expansion is” another step for us in our efforts to build a more efficient platform for the future growth of the company. The space will enable us to add more cooking capacity and a new product line in the near future. We had a record tourism season this past summer and can attribute a lot of this to our expanded tourism viewing area, gift shop and facilities, and look forward to growing that next summer.” The facility is also an agri-tourism destination that offers self-guided factory tours. A recently expanded section of the building includes an improved viewing space for visitors and additional washrooms to better accommodate tour bus traffic.

Potato-Vegetable Growers Give $5 Million for UW-Research

Potato growers plan to give $5 million to University of Wisconsin-Madison during the next decade to conduct research for the industry. Members of the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association (WPVGA) will pay for the new research with higher assessments on their product sales. Last summer, the industry increased its assessment by one penny for every 100 pounds of potatoes and vegetables produced, and the association’s board plans to raise it by one more cent next year. “The plan is to dedicate $500,000 annually for the next 10 years to a Wisconsin potato research fund which will be directed by potato grower representatives to support areas that we determine to be our priorities,” said Tamas Houlihan, WPVGA executive director. “It will be through the UW-Foundation, however. Our ultimate goal is to raise $10 million for this fund over the next 10 years with the additional contributions from growers, vegetable processing companies and allied members.” Growers now pay six cents per hundredweight for marketing and research. Houlihan says the increase in monetary support comes from the value the producers see in the U-W researchers and facilities. The Rhinelander Agricultural Research Station, also known as the UW Lelah Starks Potato Breeding Farm, has been a home for University potato breeding research for more than 50 years. The new fund, which will be overseen by a seven-member advisory board made up of potato and vegetable industry representatives, will expand the industry’s investment options, giving them more flexibility to invest in the university’s research, staffing or facilities — whatever is needed — to keep the program and the state’s industry at the forefront.

U.S. Researchers Program Drone to Hunt PVY in Potatoes

U.S. researchers say they’ve pinpointed individual spud plants infected with potato virus Y (PVY) with 90 per cent accuracy, using hyperspectral cameras mounted on drones. Donna Delparte, an assistant professor of geosciences at Idaho State University, and graduate student Mike Griffel have successfully tested a “computer-learning” algorithm they developed to tease out PVY from spectral imaging “background noise,” such as field variability and unrelated crop stress. “Our premise was to look at all of these wavelengths of light the human eye can’t see and look for differences between healthy plants and plants infected with PVY,” Griffel said, adding their images had leaf-scale resolution. Griffel said the project detected disease well before potato crops reached the row-closure stage, far earlier than people can spot symptoms of PVY by scouting fields. To develop their algorithm, they compiled crop data in fields over three seasons, ending in 2016. The researchers first analyzed fields from the ground with a high-tech camera capable of recording 100 bands of the light spectrum. After studying the images, they selected the 15 most useful bands for identifying PVY based on its unique light reflection. Delparte programmed more basic hyperspectral cameras mounted on drones to detect those bands while surveying the same potato fields from the air. They developed the algorithm based on common spectral signatures among sick plants. Their software “learned” to ignore field variability based on comparisons of sick plant signatures with signatures reflected from adjacent healthy plants. Griffel envisions the technology will eventually enable drones to text GPS coordinates of sick plants to field agronomists, or direct drones to spray and kill sick plants upon detection.

Lack of Seed Potatoes May Reduce Area Growth in Northwestern Europe

A lack of seed potatoes might reduce the growth of next year’s potato area for processing potatoes and contracts. According to the North-Western European Potato Growers (NEPG), the expected growth of next year’s potato area might be less than previously estimated. In the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and France there is a serious lack of seed potatoes to grow processing potatoes. The United Kingdom is the only NEPG member not suffering from this shortage. At the same time, the processors have again extended their processing capacity to between 700,000 and 800,000 tonnes, and contract prices have gained 20 to 30 Euro/1000 kg for the earlies (delivery mid-July) and between 10 and 15 Euro/1000 kg for the main crop varieties. Growers and processors are searching for alternatives like very small seeds (25- 28mm), seed cutting, and the use of alternative new varieties or dual-purpose potatoes from the starch growers. New, lesser-known varieties such as Bintje, and the revival of some varieties such as Asterix and Desiree, will be planted. Growers have to manage the risks carefully, according to the NEPG, to keep the quality at the desired high level. Most of the processing variety seeds are in the hands of the processors. This gives them the opportunity to let farmers sign contracts where the growers have to deliver the contracted potatoes back. According to the NEPG, a harvest volume is mainly based upon the final yields per hectare and not upon the number of hectares. If next year’s yields are of average levels, there will be enough potatoes available for last year’s planted area.

U.S. Exports of Frozen and Fresh Potatoes Grows

U.S. exports of frozen and fresh potatoes continued to grow in December while dehydrated exports were still down but by a lesser degree. The strong dollar continues to be an issue, but tight exportable supplies are also having an impact on future sales. Frozen export volume increased 22 per cent in December and is up six per cent for the first six months of the marketing year. Exports for the month were up 27 per cent to Japan, 30 per cent to Taiwan and 59 per cent to Central America. Exports to China and Mexico continued to slip, down 21 per cent and two per cent respectively for December. Exports of dehydrated potatoes declined 20 per cent in December and are down 21 per cent for the marketing year to date. December exports to Japan were down 37 per cent, to the Philippines down 70 per cent and to Mexico down 14 per cent. Canada is up 10 per cent for the month, but is still down six per cent for the year. Exports of fresh potatoes, both chip-stock and table-stock, increased 16 per cent in December and are up 26 per cent for the marketing year. Exports for December to Canada were up 26 per cent, with a 47 per cent increase to Central America, 116 per cent to Taiwan and 10 per cent to the Philippines. With the early opening of the Japan shipping window in December, the U.S. exported 5,560 MT of additional chipping potatoes there. Exports to Mexico continues to decline, down 10 per cent for December, with Korea down 49 per cent and Malaysia down 17 per cent.

Select Potato Growers Trying Soil Fumigation

In an effort to boost yields with its contract growers of russet processing potatoes, McCain Foods has been conducting trials of fumigation on a small number of acres with farmers in Arrostook County, Maine, who have had yield problems with nematodes, Verticillium wilt and other fungal soil pests. The Florenceville, New Brunswick-based company, which operates a factory in Easton, has been conducting similar trials with its growers in Canada. In the fall of 2015, the company started a trial with three growers in Limestone, Presque Isle and Washburn, Maine, across more than 60 acres, fumigating sections of the soil with chloropicrin, a broad-spectrum soil pesticide the growers injected into 12-inch bands of raised rows in the fall before planting potatoes. Fumigated sections of the fields showed fairly significant yield increases, with an additional 90 to 106 hundredweight increase to the yield based on the varying amounts of the chemical the grower applied. The average yield per acre for Maine potatoes in 2015 was 315 hundredweight, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The trial also showed yield increases just from preparing raised rows the fall before planting, without fumigation, with those sections of fields seeing an average increase of 35 hundredweight. Last fall, farmers fumigated 13 fields of McCain growers from Houlton to Saint Agatha with chloropicrin, and the company will share those results from those fields next year. Maine potato growers have not used fumigation in the past, in part because of northern Maine’s cold winters keeping soil-borne pathogens in check, according to the Maine Potato Board’s 2013 industry report. While potatoes receive sprays of fungicides, insecticides and herbicides to kill the plant vines in the weeks prior to harvest, Maine potato growers use a tenth of the total amount of active pesticides growers use in other major potato regions, according to the report. Some farms also have used biofumigation as an organic way to address soil pests, planting a brassica cover crop such as radish, mustard or rapeseed, which releases compounds that kill nematodes and fungi.

PRODUCT NEWS

Innate Second Generation Potatoes Receive EPA and FDA Clearances

The J.R. Simplot Company announced that the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have completed their independent reviews and granted registrations and clearances for three varieties of Simplot’s second generation of Innate potatoes. The three varieties have already been deregulated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), so these new agency registrations and clearances permit these proprietary bioengineered potatoes to be grown and sold in the United States. The Innate Gen. 2 Russet Burbank, Ranger Russet and Atlantic varieties contain significant benefits to growers, processors and consumers with reduced bruising and black spots; reduction of the natural chemical compound asparagine; protection from late blight pathogens; and enhanced cold storage capability. These benefits were achieved through biotechnology by adapting genes only from wild and cultivated potatoes. Late blight, a major contributing factor for the historic Irish potato famine, is caused by a fungus-like pathogen and still has the potential to devastate world potato crops. Innate Gen. 2 potatoes express a gene from a South American wild potato species that provides natural protection against certain strains of the pathogen. Simplot estimates that the late blight protection trait can result in up to a 50 per cent reduction in fungicide applications annually to control late blight. Reduced asparagine means that accumulation levels of acrylamide can be reduced by up to 90 per cent when these potatoes are cooked at high temperatures. In addition, lowered reducing sugars enable cold storage at 38 F (3 C) for more than six months without the build-up of sugars, which maintains a quality that cannot be achieved until now. Based on academic estimates from the American Journal of Potato Research, it is estimated that late blight disease contributes to five per cent in-field yield loss and 1.7 per cent storage loss each year in the U.S. which is the equivalent of 71,000 acres or 1.4 billion wasted lbs. In addition, late blight protection similar to Innate could result in the reduction of 1.2 million acre applications of fungicides overall.

Australian OGTR Approves Field Trial of GM Potato

The Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) in Australia has issued a license to the Queensland University of Technology, allowing the limited and controlled release (field trial) of potato genetically modified (GM) for disease resistance. The field trial (License Application DIR 150) is authorized to take place at one site of up to 0.1 hectare in Redland City, Queensland, for a period of two years. It will assess the agronomic characteristics and Potato virus X disease response of the GM potato plants under field conditions. The GM potatoes will not be used in human food or animal feed. The final Risk Assessment and Risk Management Plan (RARMP) concludes that this limited and controlled release poses negligible risks to people and the environment and does not require specific risk treatment measures.

“Uglies” – Potato Chips from Waste Potatoes

Pennsylvania-based potato chip maker Dieffenbach’s Potato Chips, has launched a new variety of chip: Uglies. The company introduced the new chips at the 101st Pennsylvania Farm Show, which was held Jan. 7-14 in Harrisburg. According to the company, the goal of the new brand of chips is to help reduce food waste, and save money. According to Dwight Zimmerman, vice president of sales and marketing, Uglies’ concept goes back years, to Mark Dieffenbach, founder of the company, who “never liked to waste anything.” Some of the potatoes stored at the facility after harvest would go “bad,” at least by industry standards – the starch may turn into sugar over time, which creates a darker chip, even though they are perfectly edible. Decades ago, the company decided to turn these traditionally rejected potatoes into chips anyway and sold them in a plain-label, discounted back of chips in the area, a predecessor of today’s Uglies. In May 2016, the company decided to create a story and market these plain-label bags of chips into something new. Uglies premiered at the Private Label Manufacturer’s Association show in Chicago last October. Today, Uglies are sold in three flavours: Original Sea Salt, Mesquite BBQ, and Salt & Vinegar. Stiff in its infancy and only sold in 130 stores in Pennsylvania, Zimmerman estimates the brand has “saved” two loads, or around 100,000 lbs, of potatoes that would have been traditionally rejected. The next stage is to expand it to national and larger, regional retailers by the end of 2017.

PEOPLE NEWS

New Chairman at Prince Edward Island Potato Board

Rodney Dingwell, Chair, Prince Edward Island Potato Board

The Prince Edward Island Potato Board has a new executive as a result of its Dec. 14 board of directors meeting. Rodney Dingwell of Morell was elected as the new chairman of the board. Morell and his family own and operate Mo Dhaicdh Farms Ltd., growing processing and tablestock potatoes. Morell represents the processing sector for the Montague-Souris District on the board.

The new vice‐chairman of the board is Darryl Wallace of Cascumpec. Wallace and his family own and operate Wallace Family Farms. Wallace represents the processing sector for the West Prince District. The third member of the executive committee is Jason Hayden of Cherry Valley who was elected secretary‐treasurer. Valley represents the tablestock sector for the Montague‐Souris District. Also joining the board are two new directors: Mark MacMillan of Pownal, who will be representing the processing sector for the Charlottetown District; and Harris Callaghan of St. Louis, who will be representing the tablestock sector for the West Prince District. The returning board directors are Alex Docherty, Fulton Hamill, Wayne Townshend, Owen Ching, David Francis, John Hogg and Glen Rayner. Ashton Perry of Elmsdale also participates in board meetings as a representative of the PEI Young Farmers Association. The board also recognized the efforts of retiring board members Donald Godfrey and Kirk Shea for their service over the past few years. The potato industry is the largest economic driver of the agriculture industry on Prince Edward Island, and is worth over $1 billion to the Prince Edward Island economy each year. Prince Edward Island is also the largest potato‐producing province in Canada.

Spud-Based Research Taking Root at University of Lethbridge

Lab-based research got underway this past January at the University of Lethbridge for the school’s new research chair in potato science. Dmytro Yevtushenk​o is a plant biologist who has studied potatoes for more than 25 years. He took up the new research chair position in January 2016. Yevtushenk​o’s first year was spent crafting new courses that will train the university’s students in aspects of potato science. The hope from industry stakeholders is that it will entice new people into the business. The research chair and his program are funded by Cavendish and the Potato Growers of Alberta (PGA), and other industry leaders such as McCain Foods and Lamb Weston. Yevtushenk​o’s first graduate student started work Jan. 16, studying the physiological age of seed potatoes. The benefit being that if they can more accurately hone the aging of seed potatoes, they can be more efficiently grown because crops will sprout and germinate at the same time. The team will also be looking at various potato diseases. Yevtushenk​o estimates he will have roughly a dozen research assistants working under him by the time the project is at full capacity.

 

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