The potato production outlook across Canada is mixed as parts of Eastern Canada recorded one of the driest growing seasons on record while growers in Western Canada are rushing to get spuds out of the ground before winter hits, according to an update from the United Potato Growers of Canada (UPGC), published on Sept. 18.
UPGC is estimating Canadian production will be off by at least six million per hundred weight this year compared to last year. And if yields do not continue to add weight in late maturing varieties, that could drop to 8.5 million cwt. These estimates are assuming that all of Canada’s 363,470 planted acres are harvested.
“Nothing is for certain until the last potato is in the bin, however this growing season may have changed supply availability in at least two sectors of the industry representing table and processing,” the report says.
Promising crops in the central region of Quebec and Ontario will not likely be able to cover off the expected decreases out of Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick, the report notes.
French fry processors in in Alberta and Manitoba will likely see tightened supply this year as plant capacity has expanded in Western Canada.
“In addition, fryers were already playing catch up to a market demand radically reduced by COVID-19 in the spring and then coming back sooner than expected this summer. Unfortunately, this occurred after raw product had moved to other channels and contracted volume for the 2020 crop was reduced across North America,” the report says.
Prince Edward Island
The growing season has been disappointedly dry for most P.E.I. potato growers with the central region being particularly hard hit, the report notes. Rain did fall of Sept. 3, but it was too late for most early maturing varieties.
There is hope that later maturing varieties, such as Russet Burbank, may be able to hold as rain appears later in the fall. Industry sources expect the overall yield may be down anywhere from 15 to 25 per cent.
“As Canada’s largest grower, that could reduce production by 5 million hundred weight and make it one of the lowest crops since back in 2001 when the province experienced a major drought,” the report says.
There has been some limited early harvest of table, chip, and processing potatoes. Some growers will begin harvest in the next week, but most will start the week of Sept. 28.
Soil has continued to dry in New Brunswick over the last three weeks, as rain has still not fallen.
Early harvest of chopstick and fry potato have shown disappointing yields in the 200 to 250 cwt per acre range. Growers have been reluctant to harvest much without an additional incentive for reduced yields, the report notes.
The drought has taken it’s toll on varieties such as Goldfish and Norkotahs, however growers are still hopeful about Innovators and Burbanks.
A 30 per cent production reduction is expected for this crop. A 5,000,000 cwt reduction would make it one of the lowest crops in the last 19 years, the report says. The industry has been bringing in potatoes from neighbouring provinces to fill fresh shipper supply needs.
Harvest for most growers will start in the next week, the report notes.
A dry growing season has caused some lower yields on early varieties, however good moisture has been received over the past month, the report says.
“This should provide a decent finish for one of the better growing provinces in the country this season.”
Early harvest has been ongoing for a while, with growers reporting good size as a result of light set in some fields. Later varieties, particularly russets are expected to bring up the yield average.
Some growers started harvesting storage potatoes the week of Sept. 14, but many are expected start this week, the report notes.
Although some of the early table harvest started off a bit light due to the hot weather, fields now being dug are showing good yields, the report says. Most growers are a few weeks into harvest with good process being made.
Increased chip consumption caused contact volume increases with more acres planted this spring. The acreage increase along with strong yields, should bring Ontario’s potato production up by one million cwt compared to last year, the report notes.
Excess heat during the summer has reduced crop yields around 10 to 12 per cent, the report says. Frost on Sept. 8 and Sept. 17 has reduced the yield potential on later varieties.
Trial results on some of the newer processing varieties such as Clearwater and Ivory show they have not responded well to the stresses this growing season. Provincial yields are estimates to be at 315 to 320 cwt per acre.
Harvest progress is varied across the province with some growers done and others just starting, the report notes.
“Harvest conditions are good compared to last year’s horrific conditions, although they also bring in a few lumps from the dry soil.”
It is expected Manitoban producers will harvest 2.5 million cwt over 2019, but this will still likely be too short for the J.R. Simplot plant expansion at Portage la Prairie.
The table crop has been variable with some good and some lower yields, the report notes. Quality has been good although some growers are finding skin setting seems to be slower this year, keeping harvest on a tight schedule. The dry soil conditions are also making it hard to prevent bruising in the fresh crop.
Even with hot and dry conditions, the Saskatchewan potato crop has appeared good through out the season, the report says.
Harvest is underway with about two thirds of the crop still left. Temperatures at Lucky Lake dipped to -6 C on the morning of Sept. 8, so growers will be anxious to complete their harvest, the report notes.
Most growers have been disappointed with yields in Alberta so far, the report says. However, they are hopeful the harvest over the last few weeks will bring up the provincial yield.
The potato crop has been of very good quality with high gravities and size, but there is just is not enough of it, the report notes. Smoke from the fires in the western United States may be inhibiting the hotosynthetic process slowing bulking in the late varieties.
Early production estimates have Alberta growers harvesting 1.5 million cwt less than last year, the report says. Fry processing supply will be tight with the new Cavendish Farms plant in Lethbridge needing increased production this year.
The seed crop is looking good despite acres having been drowned out in early July, the report notes.
Harvest is almost at the 50 per cent market provincially. Growers have been pleased with harvest conditions and their progress compared to last year. They should be done in a few weeks.
The growing season in British Columbia has provided for a high yielding crop which could exceed last year’s 325 cwt per acre, the report says.
Harvest for the fresh market has been ongoing for some time and many growers have started storing in the last two weeks. Progress to date is estimated at 50 per cent with good digging conditions.