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2017 was another good year for potato production in Canada, with the national yield hitting a record high.

For the fourth straight year, the national potato yield in Canada has hit a new record high.

According to figures from Statistics Canada, the national yield per acre for the 2017 potato crop was 309 hundredweight (cwt). That’s up slightly from the previous record-setting level of 308 cwt per acre in 2016.

Kevin MacIsaac, general manager of the United Potato Growers of Canada (UPGC) isn’t surprised the yield number is maintaining its upward trend.

“Basically, the management level is higher, there are more and more potatoes being irrigated now then there ever was, and we have different varieties that are higher-yielding. So overall, so I’d expect to see some kind of increase each year unless something major happens that causes yields to drop,” MacIsaac told Spud Smart when contacted in December.

The numbers from Statistics Canada show Alberta with the highest potato yield in the country at 391 cwt per acre in 2017. Manitoba was next at 354 cwt per acre and then New Brunswick at 310 cwt per acre.

According to the Stats Can figures, the yield in Prince Edward Island was 272 cwt of potatoes per acre in 2017. That represents a six per cent drop from 2016, when the yield was 290 cwt per acre in Canada’s biggest potato producing province.

MacIsaac noted potato growers in eastern to central P.E.I. actually had a decent 2017 but producers in the western part of the province had a disappointing year because their yields were much lower. As a result, overall potato production on the Island dropped nearly two million cwt from 2016 to 2017.

“That has significant repercussions for the main processor in P.E.I. which is Cavendish Farms. There’s a significant amount of potatoes that will have to be imported into the province to keep that plant running,” MacIsaac said. He adds it’s likely they’ll be brought in from New Brunswick, Manitoba and Alberta, as well as Maine and North Dakota.

After a dismal year in 2016 due to drought, Ontario potato growers rebounded well in 2017 with a nearly 19 per cent increase in their crop. “Ontario is basically back to what you would consider their normal production,” MacIsaac said.

B.C. growers, meanwhile, experienced the biggest drop in total potato production in 2017. Their crop was close to 20 per cent less than it was in 2016, which MacIsaac noted was a record year for production and yield in that province. He added B.C.’s potato crop was later getting planted and it was a poor growing season for potatoes in non-irrigated areas in 2017, which contributed to lower yields.

In terms of the overall quality of Canada’s 2017 potato crop, MacIsaac said it’s similar to the previous year’s crop, which was excellent.

“There were some areas that were harvesting when it was quite hot at the start of harvest season. When that happens, sometimes it’s a challenge to store these potatoes for a long period of time,” he said. “We’ll need some time to see how those lots are holding up in storage, but with the exception of that I would say the quality looks very good.”

MacIsaac indicated that as 2017 wound down, potatoes were moving from storages into the marketplace at a good clip.

Demand was good for fresh potatoes, he said, while processing potatoes were moving briskly to keep up with continued strong demand from the french fry plants.

According to the UPGC, December numbers for the nation’s total storage holdings were up from a year previously. The amount of potatoes in storage on Dec. 1, 2017 was just over 80 million cwt, a 6.8 per cent increase from the amount of potatoes in storage on Dec. 1, 2016. Most of this was required for additional processing expansion in several provinces, MacIsaac said.

South of the border, the fall potato crop dropped slightly in 2017. December figures released by the United States Department of Agriculture show total fall production in the U.S. came in at under 399 million cwt, which is down 1.9 per cent from almost 407 million cwt in 2016.

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