[deck] The 2015 growing season was a record-setting one for potato producers in many parts of the country. A strong, early start this spring could mean more of the same this year.[/deck]
In 2015, Canadian potato growers enjoyed record-setting yields in many parts of the country, including New Brunswick, Manitoba and Alberta. Nationally, the average potato yield was a 305 hundredweight per acre, up from the previous record of 294 hundredweight set the year before.
Kevin MacIsaac, general manager of the United Potato Growers of Canada, stated in mid-June that 2015’s exceptional numbers can be attributed to favourable growing conditions.
“It was a warm growing season and it was an excellent fall for bulking. The tubers had set well early in the season with the proper number of tubers under the plants. Plus, there was a long growing season to bulk them up. There wasn’t any early frost or delay issues with harvesting either.”
While it’s too early to say with any certainty if those numbers will be duplicated in 2016, there is reason for optimism. A mild winter and early spring in most parts of the country meant planting began on time or ahead of schedule for most growers.
“The crop has a good start,” MacIsaac said. “Generally, you tend to have better quality with the longer season and you’re able to get your crop in and take advantage of those long days.
“I think we have pretty good optimism going into this year’s crop. Sometimes at this time of year … you are looking at a lot of potatoes from last year’s crop to deal with, prices not moving up. It’s the opposite this year,” he noted.
“Our holdings are at a very good stage in terms of the volume, prices are moving [up] and contracts have been negotiated in every province. Growers didn’t really get an increase in [contract] prices … but they did maintain volumes in most areas.”
Last year, Canadian growers planted 349,003 acres of potatoes, which represented a slight increase over 2014. While Statistics Canada’s production estimates for 2016 have yet to be released, preliminary projections indicate the total number of acres across the country will remain relatively static this year, MacIsaac said, adding any potential decreases are likely to be on the fresh side.
One factor that bodes well for the coming year is the fact that holdings were substantially less now than they were a year ago in June, particularly on the fresh side. As of June 1, holdings were down by about 20 per cent compared to the same time in 2015, according to the UPGC.
“The net result of all that is right now we’re seeing a price increase happening both here and in the U.S.,” MacIsaac said.
“It’s been a long, long wait. We felt prices would move [sooner] but it’s taken until now to get moving. But prices are moving up and that usually means demand exceeds supply, which is good because it will help to empty out our supply line at a good price. It’s always good to start a new crop and you’re at a higher price than trying to move it up once a new crop comes on.”
While growers in most parts of the country didn’t see any increases in contract volumes from processors this year, the good news is that they held on to the gains the made a year ago when the loonie lost ground to the U.S. dollar and multinational companies ramped up production at some potato processing plants in Canada.
“The worst thing you can have happen is to have contract volume taken away from you,” MacIsaac said. “You can’t plan your business plan around a reduction like that all the time. Obviously, you always want more but you need to maintain what you have.”
Potato acreages in New Brunswick are expected to be between 47,000 and 48,000 acres in 2016, according to Potatoes New Brunswick, which is relatively flat compared to last year’s total of 47,885 acres. About 60 per cent of this year’s crop will be destined for processing while the rest will be split almost evenly between table varieties and seed potatoes.
Matt Hemphill, executive director of Potatoes New Brunswick, said in June processing volumes are expected to be down between one and eight per cent.
About 95 per cent of planting in New Brunswick had wrapped up by the first week of June with just a handful of seed growers still finishing up, Hemphill said. That’s a far cry from last year when planting wasn’t completed until almost the end of June due to a nasty winter and cold, wet spring.
“[This] May was nowhere near as cold and wet. We’re off to a great start,” Hemphill said. “Things are certainly set up for [success]. We have a great quality seed in the ground. Our virus levels are the lowest they’ve ever been for PVY in New Brunswick. We’ve got one of the best seed crops that’s been planted in a while.”
Prince Edward Island
The total potato acreage in Prince Edward Island is expected to be between 89,000 and 90,000 acres this year, according to preliminary estimates by P.E.I. officials. That compares favourably to last year’s total of 89,500 acres. About 60 per cent of this year’s crop is destined for processing while 30 per cent will be earmarked for fresh varieties and the remaining 10 per cent for seedlings.
Greg Donald, general manager of the P.E.I. Potato Board, said in June nearly 95 per cent of planting in the province had been completed by the first week of the month, which constitutes a typical year on the island. Heavy spring rains delayed planting in areas such as West Prince County by a few days, he added.
Donald said the fact this year’s crop was in the ground several weeks earlier than a year ago is reason for optimism on Spud Island.
“If you look at our numbers for the last two or three years we’ve been pretty consistent,” he said. “With a normal planting [this year] we should be looking at at least an average crop. I would bank on at least an average crop with potential for better.”
Donald added that while late blight is always a concern, there doesn’t appear to be any evidence so far to indicate disease or pests pose a significant risk this season.
In Quebec, early projections indicate that potato acreage will decrease by about one or two per cent from last year’s total of 42,749 acres.
Clement LaLancette, director general of le Fédération des producteurs de pommes de terre du Québec, said in June the decrease is attributable in part to last year’s record yield and some smaller growers dropping out due to low prices.
About 90 per cent of planting had been completed in la belle province by early June with the remainder expected to be completed within a week to 10 days. Despite starting a few days later than normal, LaLancette said sunny weather allowed Quebec growers to make up the lost time.
LaLancette said he expects Quebec to enjoy a typical year in terms of yield with an average of 275 hundredweight per acre. Virus count levels have been low in early seed sampling, he added.
Peter VanderZaag, noted potato scientist and owner of Sunrise Potatoes in Alliston, Ont., said in June that Ontario growers expect to come close to matching last year’s acreage of 34,750 acres. VanderZaag said while some there have been some cuts to some processing contracts there have also been some gains, which will result in “a net wash.”
Most of the planting in Ontario wrapped up by the end of May although a few areas didn’t finish until the first week of June. VanderZaag said planting was slightly behind schedule this spring because “April turned back to winter” and May was cooler than normal.
Despite the slow start, yield expectations remain fairly high in the province. “I would say by and large the crops that are emerging look very nice. Although it’s a bit on the dry side most farmers have irrigation now and they can manage that,” VanderZaag said, adding dry spring conditions could mean relatively normal disease and pest pressures.
After experiencing a 6.3 per cent increase in acreage a year ago, Manitoba is expected to have a net decrease in 2016, according to the Keystone Potato Producers Association.
KPPA manager Dan Sawatzky said in June that the planted potato acreage in the province will likely decline by about 2,500 acres due to drops in contract volumes with a couple of major processors.
Despite a slightly later start than usual, planting was completed on schedule by late May and early signs indicate Manitoba growers could match last year’s record yield.
“The one thing we’re noticing with the emergence is that it was a little quicker than normal,” Sawatzky said.
“With the start we’ve had it looks like we could have another strong year for yield. Last year … we did have a record for highest yield on record and at this point it looks like we could hopefully match that with our start.”
In Saskatchewan, acreage is expected to decline slightly from last year’s total of 6,000 acres, according to UPGC’s MacIsaac.
A decent amount of precipitation and good planting conditions allowed Saskatchewan growers to plant their crops by mid-May, he said.
The planted potato acreage in Alberta is expected to be comparable to a year ago with an estimated 52,500 to 53,000 acres versus the 53,459 acres planted in 2015, according to the Potato Growers of Alberta.
Terrence Hochstein, PGA executive director, said in June the good news is thanks to improvements in technology and agronomy that growers are now able to produce the same volume over fewer acres.
Crops were planted in most areas by the first week of June. However, favourable conditions in the southern part of the province meant some growers had potatoes in the ground by the first week of April, about two to three weeks earlier than last year.
While it’s too early to say if Alberta will match last year’s record-setting yield, Hochstein said this year’s early start bodes well, especially if favourable weather conditions prevail between now and harvest time.
In British Columbia, potato acreage is expected to decline slightly from last year’s total of 5,700 acres, MacIsaac said.
Growers in some areas of the province began planting in February and were a couple of weeks ahead of last year’s schedule with select early varieties, he added.
“It was very warm there early in the spring. The crop went in super early but did very well,” MacIsaac said.