Business2023’s Huge Crop Influencing Planting Plans for 2024

2023’s Huge Crop Influencing Planting Plans for 2024

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Last fall’s record processing crop across the Pacific Northwest is shaping current stores, export opportunities, product movement and planting plans for the year ahead.

Though total potato holdings were down in the east at the end of February, the west’s great big pile of Harvest 2023 processing spuds means Canada-wide were up 10 per cent year-over-year as February turned to March.

Overall disappearance (movement) of Canadian potatoes in February was down in the east compared to the same time in 2023 and up in the west slightly. Overall, Canada is down about 1.4 per cent in movement overall — comparing 2024 to 2023 — again largely driven by the processing sector.

The goal now is to work through the processing surplus, with some movement from the west going to fill holes in the east.

Fresh Potatoes

The fresh market is currently well balanced, with prices holding fairly strong. Overall holdings are down on a year-over-year basis. What that number doesn’t differentiate, however, is what percentage of the recorded movement is based on actual sales and what is, in fact, based on a high cull rate, says Victoria Stamper, general manager of the United Potato Growers of Canada.

“What I’m hearing from P.E.I. is that their stores are holding better than they had expected given the issues at harvest,” she says. “New Brunswick has had definite challenges: they had a lot of issues like hollow heart in their processing crop, but even in the fresh russets there have been challenges. Quebec’s holdings numbers are up, which is kind of surprising because they’ve had the same issues as New Brunswick.”

Seed Potatoes

With the exception of Alberta, which starts shipping seed in October, January was slow for seed movement. Numbers picked up somewhat in February, but overall seed movement remained down 2.2 per cent overall at the end of February.

“Last year, there was a lot of pressure to book seed because there were feelings of shortages, and we’d already had a year of shortage the season previous. This year, there’s been less feeling of pressure. People have perhaps been holding off, hoping prices would come down. But March is the big month. It’ll be the March disappearance that’s really key for the seed group to make sure that things are moving the way they’re supposed to move,” says Stamper.

One other factor, which isn’t yet impacting seed numbers significantly but could soon, is overall planted acres.

“Certified seed acres planted has been on the decrease the last two years. It’s a trend we want to keep an eye on,” says Stamper.

Planting Plans 2024

Going into 2024’s growing season, 2023 carryover will have some impact on planted acres of processing spuds. As of the end of March, only Alberta had completed contract negotiations, with overall contracted acre volumes down in that province. The other provinces are expected to follow suit.

“The indication out of the Pacific Northwest and Alberta would yes, say, processing acres will be down in most locations,” says Stamper.

The carryover of processing potatoes, which is likely to extend into September, will impact early planting.

“No one is rushing planting,” says Stamper.

Fresh acreage is expected to be flat this year, mostly because there isn’t a lot of physical space for growth in acreage.

“P.E.I. is obviously at their capacity on the Island,” says Stamper. “New Brunswick is moving more and more to processing acres: they’re 70-80 per cent processing now. Quebec has one of the larger fresh sectors, but again is limited in terms of their ability to expand into available land. Manitoba I’m hearing is likely to stay fairly flat.”

International Competition

In terms of pricing, Canadian processing producers have so far fared better than their American counterparts, perhaps because Canadian supply is more balanced than our southern neighbours, says Stamper.

“In the U.S., the russet price in particular dropped significantly. They were starting from a very, very high number so the percentage decreases look enormous. Still, here in Canada we didn’t feel the impact quite as much. Prices have definitely gone down from the highs of last year, but not to the degree they did in the U.S.”

The glut impacted Canadian exports. That said, a light crop in Europe due to excessive rain especially at harvest opens different export opportunities for Canadian product, says Stamper.“With that short crop in Europe, hopefully there’s some ability for Canada to take back market share globally.”

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