Spud Smart’s annual report on Statistics Canada’s potato acreage estimates.
For the first time since 2004, the estimate of area planted to potatoes has increased, according to Statistics Canada’s report Canadian Potato Production released in July. This year’s estimated planted area is 362,300 acres, up 2 per cent over 2010. The largest increase is in Alberta, which is up 10 per cent at 55,500 acres, followed by Manitoba, with a four per cent increase to 74,000 acres. The acreage increases in these provinces are a result of increases to potato processing contracts—a sector already in short supply. Saskatchewan, on the other hand, recorded the largest decrease, down seven per cent to 7,000 acres.
But despite the increase in planted acres, there is universal agreement among provincial and national grower organizations that supplies could be tight this year if the cold, wet weather conditions, which have affected virtually all potato production areas in Canada this spring, continue into the growing season.
“Even though there are extra acres in the United States and Canada, the pipeline is very empty,” says Edzo Kok, executive director of Potato Growers of Alberta. “The processing factories [in the United States] are starting early, and the crop really isn’t ready to be harvested, so yields are going to be sacrificed on the early harvest. Frozen inventories are also at all-time lows, so there is going to be a huge demand on this crop, and because it isn’t going to be a huge crop, supplies are likely to be tight again.”
Most provinces are reporting delayed planting, putting them behind in crop development by 10 to 14 days. Many producers are also worried about yields because the cool conditions that persisted throughout May and June slowed germination, and untimely precipitation events either hampered seeding or drowned out seeded acres. Weather conditions for the rest of the season will certainly affect yield.
Mark Drouin, general manager of the United Potato Growers of Canada and vice-president of potatoes for the Canadian Horticultural Council, acknowledges that many Canadian growers got off to a late start, but if good weather prevails, he’s confident most crops will catch up. However, he doesn’t anticipate bumper yields for 2011. “If people start feeling the short supply and start taking potatoes out early then, yes, yield will be an issue,” he says. “We are predicting that yields will either stay the same or decrease a little bit from last year.”
Manitoba’s acres are up thanks to increases in contracts from two major processors, but the acreage may prove irrelevant this year, says Garry Sloik, manager of the Keystone Potato Producers’ Association. “There are some big losses in the fields already, and we probably won’t harvest as many potatoes as we did last year,” he says.
Serious flooding in some areas and generally wet, cool conditions across Manitoba meant that seeding occurred later than normal for many producers, and a lot of irrigated acres close to rivers could not be planted at all.
Prince Edward Island
Prince Edward Island has planted 84,500 acres this year, a decrease of 1,000 acres from 2010.
The Island also experienced a slow start to the season, and Greg Donald, general manager of the P.E.I Potato Board, is concerned it may potentially affect both yield and quality.
“It’s important to have a good growing season for all markets. For processing, we tend to operate on a certain window, and when that window is compressed because of later planting, it can be difficult to get a good mature crop with the colour and gravity essential to our processor customers,” he says. “It’s too early to know, but we are hopeful we will get good weather, and will have a good crop.”
Planted acreage for New Brunswick is very similar to 2010, with a dip of only 500 acres to 51,000. A few large-scale growers decided not to plant this spring, for various reasons, but those acres have been made up by additional acres planted to processing potatoes, says Joe Brennan, chairman of Potatoes New Brunswick. “There was an increase in processing contract volume this year by about 10 per cent, which covered about half of the reduction of a year ago—last year they were cut 20 per cent,” says Brennan.
With the same story of late planting and cool, damp weather there is concern from growers here, too, about yield potential. “All those stresses have taken their toll, but how badly, we don’t really know yet,” says Brennan. “With the late start, and everything else, it certainly has taken away any potential for even an average crop, with the holes and weaknesses we have in the plant stands because of misses, drownouts and erosion. We have a lot of things to overcome, and it’s what’s ahead of us that’s going to make the difference.”
Alberta increased planted acres significantly this year to 55,500 acres. Most of those acres are from increases to processing contracts.
The province did not seed as late as other regions, although approximately 2,000 acres were drowned out in the south. Crop development is progressing well and is already in advance of last year, according to Kok. “I think our yields will be better than last year, especially if the province has a later fall, like it did last year, which prolonged harvest,” he says.
Plantings in Ontario are down 800 acres from 2010 to 37,700. The late spring meant that some growers didn’t plant all the potatoes they had intended, switching instead to alternative crops such as soybeans. The new crop harvest for table stock started July18, at least 10 days behind the norm.
“A significant number of acres were re-planted because the seed rotted,” says Don Brubacher, general manager of the Ontario Potato Board. “Other field stands are quite sporadic. Some seeds just didn’t germinate, so stands aren’t as good. Some lower areas are drowned out, so it’s certainly going to be a less than normal crop.”
Concern is mounting about the size of this season’s crop—some grower groups are already getting calls from brokers who want to secure supplies and prices for next winter. Only time will tell how the size of the crop will affect prices, and that hinges almost entirely on what Mother Nature does in the months ahead.
“In the end, I am confident that we will have decent prices, at least at the beginning of the year, and then, depending on supply, we will see what happens,” says Drouin, who admits there is still a long way to go until growers know exactly what they will have for a marketable product in their fields. “When everything starts coming through from August to October, that’s when we will see the real effect on prices.”