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Eye On The Nation

New Brunswick

The 2018 growing season in New Brunswick is complete and will be remembered as one of the most challenging in the last 10 years or more. The challenging growing season in New Brunswick was further exacerbated by an early deep penetrating frost and subsequent excessive moisture during the harvest season. 

The September frosts capped yields early and wet conditions during the harvest posed several challenges for growers as they attempted to dig as much of the crop as possible. Even with state-of-the-art machinery, some growers were unable to harvest their crop. We estimate that approximately 1,100 acres, in large blocks, were left in the fields and a sizable amount more was abandoned in smaller areas throughout the province. 

The 2018 growing season, with late spring frost and an early fall frost during harvest, along with significant drought, hail damage, and a very wet fall, resulted in lower yields and gravity, along with higher smalls and misshapen tubers. 

A significant portion of the 2018 crop was harvested with frost damage and required specific attention going into storage to mitigate spoilage and to condition the crop for processing contracts. Processors and packers are utilizing the stored raw to the best of their abilities. However, lower than average payables are causing more raw to be used up than usual. 

Lower yields, lower recoveries and possible storage issues have made the supply of N.B. potatoes very tight. Even though prices on the open market are high, most growers in New Brunswick do not have any overages and in fact some will not fulfill their contracts. 

Seed potato quality and supply is also a concern as some of the acres left in the field were seed acres and a portion of the seed crop was harvested later than usual. We are seeing low PVY levels in the seed tests again this year, with quality being very good to excellent. 

Manitoba

Weather-related risk was the story of the 2018 Manitoba potato season. The majority of producers were able to mitigate the effect of below normal rainfall throughout the summer with prior capital investment in water management infrastructure and diligent use of irrigation capacity. The southern portion of the province and, in particular, the fresh market potatoes experienced some reduction in yield. 

As harvest got underway many process growers realized that the crop had potential to yield beyond their expectations. No sooner than the main harvest began so did the rain delays starting on Sept. 8. Very few back-to-back digging days were available which contributed to harvest dragging beyond normal completion dates. With the persistent rain came below normal temperatures. Nighttime readings hovered around freezing by Sept. 22 and dipped to minus 4 by Sept. 28. 

Generally, harvest tends to wrap up in Manitoba by early October, but an estimated 20 per cent was still unharvested by October 11 and 12, when temperatures plunged to minus 9 and minus 10, respectively. Scattered snow cover gave some protection, but damage ranging from an estimated 10 to 35 per cent left producers with tough decisions about any further salvage. 

Those that continued to harvest through to November are seeing mixed success in storability. An unprecedented 5200 acres were abandoned due to frost. Processors are working closely with growers to use what is available in Manitoba, but due to the short crop are looking to Alberta and Idaho to supplement supply. 

With only a handful of growers completing harvest, this experience is resulting in reflection this winter on the reality of the risk associated with growing potatoes and how to deal with it moving forward. Considering the investment associated in potato production, long-term planning has people trying to put this crop behind them and has them looking forward to the future. 

Construction on the Simplot expansion is on schedule and additional acres will need to be planted this spring. 

Alberta

When you talk about last fall’s potato harvest across North America, there won’t be too many growers that say it was one of the better ones. Most growing areas had a long, trying, and somewhat disastrous harvest, with many acres either left behind or storages that broke down shortly after harvest. 

Alberta was one of the few bright spots as far as having a positive harvest. We were one degree and two days away from having the same trying results as Manitoba and PEI experienced … we got lucky. Not only did we get our harvest off with minimal issues, but we were able to move a substantial amount of overage out of province where we normally would have had no sale for it. The remainder of our storage crop continues to store and process well with minimal issues. 

Although we are now into February, this recent cold snap that Alberta is now facing is really our first true taste of winter. The northern part of the province has had some snow, but the south has remained relatively snow-free and has experienced a well above temperature pattern for most of the winter. With traditionally only about 90 days left until spring, we have yet to really have any type of moisture. This in itself could possibly poise some issues as our irrigation season unfolds … only time will tell.

The 52nd Annual Alberta Potato Conference and Tradeshow was held in Enoch, Alta., at the River Cree Resort, with more than 400 people in attendance. Overall, it was an outstanding success with an excellent line-up of speakers and a sold out tradeshow. Next year’s event is being planned for Nov 19 – 21 in Red Deer, Alta. More details to follow. 

With the upcoming August opening of the new Cavendish facility in Lethbridge, the Alberta acreage will go up somewhat as the new facility ramps up to full capacity over the next couple of years. Once completed, this expansion will add about 10,000 additional acres to the processing industry in Alberta. This will also lend to an increase in the seed acres over time. 

Quebec

It was a difficult season in Quebec. Like most everywhere, we had a very dry growing season, with damage done in some areas, especially in Bas-St-Laurent where half of the growers saw almost a 50 per cent yield decrease! Those with an irrigation system had better results, but their cost of production suffered from the intense work in the field to save the crop. 

Even with an acreage increase this year, mostly related to processing, the total crop is lower than last year, with a lower yield. We have to take into consideration that last year yield was almost a record for us. The harvesting season was very difficult as well, with rain and cold temperatures like almost everywhere in Eastern Canada and even in Western Canada. 

We estimated more than 2,000 acres were left in fields because of early frost. The overall crop should be around 12M cwt, but it does not take into consideration the possible storage loss related to the bad harvesting conditions. 

Some processors are trying to help growers by using the riskier potatoes first. If we look at Eastern Canada production, we expected it to be at least 2M cwt lower than the balance point with the demand. Prices should be good, and we should see a slower shipment pattern. 

We asked for a minimum size change for the Canada No. 1 round-type potato at 2 inches instead of 2¼ inches. That will help us put more potatoes on the market. Seed availability is also a concern. Growers started their buys earlier, which could reduce the acreage increase normally seen after a good price year. 

Prince Edward Island

Here in P.E.I., our fresh growers and dealers are doing their best to work with their regular customers to keep them supplied throughout the season. Prices are starting to move up in recognition of the global supply situation and local fresh quality is improving as many lots that were harvested late and had high cullage rates have now been moved. 

Processing potatoes from the Pacific Northwest and Western Canada are moving to P.E.I. to make up for shortfalls in that sector. All potatoes must move under a compliance agreement with surveillance by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to ensure all soil and wash water is treated and disposed of in the appropriate manner to minimize any plant health concerns. Growers in all sectors are encouraged to arrange their seed supplies early as it will be tempting to move seed that is not booked into alternate channels. 

In recognition of the financial hardship Island growers are facing as a result of the challenges during the 2018 growing and harvest season, the P.E.I. Potato Board put a request in to our provincial government that they seek AgriRecovery assistance from the federal government. This was done, and an assessment of losses and extraordinary costs faced by growers to deal with the situation is underway. The board will keep growers up to date on this process as it moves ahead. 

The winter season is also a time for growers to start preparations for the next crop cycle. Opportunities are available to keep pesticide applicator licenses up to date, obtain first aid training and attend marketing and production information sessions. Our first two-day P.E.I. Potato Conference with a trade show and banquet will be held on February 19 and 20, 2019, in Charlottetown and we look forward to seeing everyone there.

British Columbia

The 2018 crop year was a bumper crop for British Columbia and the fall harvest left us with full storage sheds of good quality potatoes. A surplus of coloured potatoes resulted from above average yields and crop size profile. The overall crop also has excellent quality. 

Potatoes have been trading at fair prices with the bulk of the volume servicing the B.C. market with some loads going east. There were reports of high winds during late December which did uproot trees and ripped tin off our storages. There was no actual damage done to the potatoes and most repairs were quickly completed with a minimal impact on shipments. 

The 2019 crop year is presenting some concern in securing quality seed. The land base is limited for acreage expansion in the lower mainland which is our biggest market. Growers are continuing to invest in production and storage improvements that are increasing both quality and yield. If the weather holds, early Warba potatoes will be planting soon. 

 

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