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Eye On The Nation

The latest potato production news from across the country.

Winter 2020

ALBERTA 

Terence Hochstein, Executive Director, Potato Growers of Alberta 

Only in Alberta can you go from -35 C on Friday to 2 C on Sunday morning. Such is the life in the Chinook belt of southern Alberta. The winter in Alberta has been a mixed bag to say the least. Three feet of snow at the end of September, then it’s gone for a while, then another couple of feet, then gone again, and then it turns extremely cold. All of this has led to tens of thousands of acres being left unharvested across the entire province this fall. I don’t think any one growing area was able to harvest all of their acres. Even the deep south left beets, potatoes, beans and cereals behind. 

The results of this uncharacteristic fall have led to a few storage issues with some of the late potato crop that was harvested. Most growers have their problem sheds taken care of by now and the processors are moving into the better-quality spuds. The Alberta processing industry, because of the weather events of the fall, has, in some cases, had to source potatoes from outside the province. On the seed side of our industry, 2019 was one of the better years in the last five. With the increase in processing capacity in Western Canada, the East looking for good quality seed, and an ever-expanding U.S. market, most all seed growers are saying their 2019 inventory is, for all intents and purposes, spoken for. 

With more than 440 attendees and 64 tradeshow booths the 53rd Annual Alberta Potato Conference and Tradeshow was an outstanding success. Every year, the Potato Growers of Alberta team tries to come up with new and exciting speakers and events at the conference. And from talking to the attendees, no one went home disappointed. Next year’s event will be held again in Red Deer but will take on a bit of a different format. More information to follow in the coming months. 

Negotiation season is well underway across North America, with each growing region working towards a contract that is both beneficial and profitable for both growers and processors. As the coming months unfold, we will see where each area lands. 

MANITOBA 

Dan Sawatzky, General Manager, Keystone Potato Producers Association

Weather is always a topic of conversation in Manitoba. It is difficult to forecast on a daily basis and completely unpredictable annually. No one could have foreseen a second year where we would leave a major portion of our crop unharvested. It was the driest first half of the year in 2019 followed by the wettest September on record. Although the summer was exceptionally dry, growers utilized their investment in irrigation to produce a beautiful crop. 

The challenge to capture the fruit of their labour came during harvest, when the deluge of rain began and did not relent. September saw 230 to 410 per cent of normal precipitation. Generally, harvest is close to being wrapped up by the beginning of October and does not extend past Thanksgiving weekend. Fortunately, the frost held off, but just as fields were beginning to dry out enough for travel, two to three feet of wet snow fell on Oct. 11 and 12. A small number of producers were able to complete harvest just prior to the snow and some harvest continued after, until damaging frost in the last week of October ended the season. 

Over 12,000 acres remained undug. Once again, as in the previous year, the areas of the province that left the majority of the crop in the ground were the Portage la Prairie and Carberry regions. Losses borne by the growers are revealing weaknesses in the business risk management tools available to producers. They lack adequate protection against the level of loss that has been incurred. Continuing to look at ways of improving the effectiveness of insurance is ongoing this winter. 

Another ongoing issue being dealt with over the winter includes a review of water availability. With the expansion occurring in the processing industry, the need for additional water supply and infrastructure is evident. 

The Simplot expansion is on schedule to begin production near the end of January. This additional capacity is welcome and should help to stay ahead of storage issues, which are elevated this year due to the difficult harvest conditions. Both processors are also currently importing or planning to import supply to augment local production shortages. 

SASKATCHEWAN 

Matthew Lawless, President, Saskatchewan Seed Potato Growers’ Association 

Winter has settled in across the Prairies, with recent temperatures in Saskatchewan reaching -40 C, but feeling as cold as -50 C with the wind chill factor. These cold temperatures create some challenges for our seed potato growers relative to storing their crop, but so far, our winter experience is nothing out of the ordinary. Saskatchewan growers are reporting the 2019 crop is storing satisfactorily. The province’s crop is mostly sold well ahead of the 2020 shipping season, although select varieties are still available from certain growers. Should you be looking for top-quality, vigorous, early-generation, and disease/virus-free seed potatoes, please visit our website and consult our seed directory for variety and grower information. 

Saskatchewan’s seed potato industry was well represented at Potato Expo 2020 in Las Vegas, Nev., as multiple growers attended to network with industry colleagues, view the latest in potato production technology, and listen to various presentations given by researchers and other professionals. The Saskatchewan Seed Potato Growers Association will have a booth at Manitoba Potato Production Days, Jan. 28-30, in Brandon, Man. We also look forward to having representation at the International Potato Technology Expo, Feb. 21-22, in Charlottetown, P.E.I. Please come meet with us at these shows and learn more about the great things happening in the seed potato industry in Saskatchewan! 

ONTARIO 

Kevin Brubacher, General Manager, Ontario Potato Board 

The 2019 harvest in Ontario concluded in a timely manner. Most areas encountered decent weather, which allowed the crop to be harvested in a normal timeframe. Although the growing season was difficult this year, and yield averages were below normal, growers were able to harvest a crop with exceptional quality. On the chipping side, gravities are high, which seems to be offsetting the lighter crop. At the time of writing, stocks are above where they were at this time last year. There should be enough supply to carry through spring. 

The Ontario Potato Board held a successful 44th Annual General Meeting on Dec. 4, 2019. The AGM has moved to a new location at the Delta Guelph Hotel and Conference Centre where we saw record attendance for a second straight year. Highlights of the day were presentations from Eugenia Banks and Vanessa Currie, along with a showcase of 2019 variety trials. Closing the day was comedian Jeff Leeson with his “Off the Cuff” comedy that left the crowd in tears. 

Eugenia Banks will host the Ontario Potato Conference on March 5, 2020, at the Delta Hotel in Guelph, Ont. This event is one of the most anticipated potato events in the country, with a lineup of speakers you don’t want to miss. Everyone is welcome. If you are interested in attending this event, please contact the Ontario Potato Board at (519) 846-5553 or email info@ontariopotatoes.ca. 

NEW BRUNSWICK 

Jean-Maurice Daigle, Director of Market Information, Potatoes New Brunswick

The 2019 growing season in New Brunswick was a welcome return to a normal fall and although dry in certain parts of the growing season, resulted in a crop that is in line with long-term averages. This year’s crop was still variable but overall produced average yield and quality. Growers are keeping a close eye on storages as issues have surfaced sporadically on the storage crop since the end of harvest, but seem to be more frequent in the past month or so. Storage management will be key for the remainder of the storage season in order to mitigate any losses. 

Quality and payables at the processing plants are trending in line with long-term averages and processors are running hard to keep up with market demands. Packers are also running to meet demand and prices have been significantly above average this year due to lower supplies of table potatoes in several areas affected by disastrous weather events in Canada and the United States. 

Seed potatoes are showing excellent quality, very low virus levels and are storing well with no issues. 

Potatoes New Brunswick will be hosting its annual conference and tradeshow on Feb. 6, 2020, at the AYR Centre in Woodstock, N.B. We expect this year’s edition to be the best yet, with high-quality speakers presenting hot topics pertinent to the challenges facing the industry and expositors showcasing the latest in technology and services to growers. All are welcome to attend! 

BRITISH COLUMBIA 

Hugh Reynolds, Reynelda Farms, Delta, B.C. 

British Columbia, like many areas of North America, had tough harvesting weather that caused losses. Luckily, we had a good spring, which gave us a good size profile. The tight supply situation is allowing for very fair prices, especially for large-size potatoes. Bookies know it is not wise to bet against the average and that applies to the weather. For the 2020 crop, we need to budget for normal inventories and normal prices. A farmer’s biggest enemy is not rain and snow, but oversupply. Do not dump your No. 2 grade into the next province. That painted line on the highway allows trucks to go both ways. It will take courage to supply to our customers only what they want next year. Anybody that can sign a processing contract should do so. 

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