Eye on the Nation



By Terence Hochstein, Executive Director, Potato Growers of Alberta

The 2015-2016 crop year was anything but normal for Alberta process potato growers. An early April start turned into a long fall with not a lot to show for it. A cool summer with less than average heat and growing degree days (GDD) left Alberta growers with just an average crop. The quality is excellent but the 2016 yields come up rather short from 2015 yields.

Alberta’s seed growers on the other hand experienced one of their best years, with above average yields, excellent harvest weather and overall quality that has not been seen in many years. Overall, Alberta growers will have enough potatoes to fill their contractual needs.

From Nov. 21 to 23, more than 525 attendees, including growers, their families and industry members joined together at the beautiful Banff Springs Hotel to celebrate the PGA’s 50th anniversary. The three days were packed with excellent speakers, an outstanding partner’s program, a large trade show and many other activities that were enjoyed by all. This was the biggest undertaking ever by the PGA and appears to have been a resounding success on all accounts.

Dec. 12, 2016 marked a historic date in Alberta’s potato industry with the announcement of Cavendish Farms $350 million expansion. A new 300,000 sq. ft. processing plant will be built in Lethbridge. Once complete and fully utilized, this will allow Alberta processing acres to increase by about 9,500 acres. This is a 160 per cent increase in capacity from Cavendish’s current plant.


By Dan Sawatzky, General Manager, Keystone Potato Producers Association

Harvest was completed in an expedient manner throughout most growing regions within the province. A few farms had harvest interrupted with untimely rains that prolonged digging well into October. Due to an open fall without damaging frost, those who were late with harvest still managed to put good quality in the shed.

The frost free fall also contributed to record yields resulting in surplus production. Some off-field purchasing occurred mid-October onward, which assisted in utilizing limited production that exceeded available storage space. An additional 1,300 acres of excess production was disked under. Another 600 acres were abandoned due to excessive moisture.

Over the past five years the provincial average yield has increased from 276 to 348 cwt per acre. Growers continue to target higher yields per acre to match production with contracted sales. In spite of these adjustments, excellent climatic conditions led to extra production which farms may not benefit from unless further surplus sales develop.

Our annual potato conference and trade show, Manitoba Potato Production Days, was held Jan. 24 -26, 2017 at the Keystone Centre in Brandon, Man., with a full program and sold out trade show.


By Jean-Maurice Daigle, Director of Market Information, Potatoes New Brunswick

The 2016 growing season in New Brunswick has come and gone. Growers were fortunate with adequate moisture in most areas, which resulted in average yields and excellent quality. The season was further lengthened by the best fall harvest period in recent years.

A significant portion of New Brunswick’s crop was marketed earlier in 2016 with strong table market demand and price. Processing off-field volume and utilization was higher than previous years due to having two processors with off-field contracted volume and earlier utilization of the 2016 crop.

Favourable conditions and no delays in harvest operations resulted in excellent crop quality put into storage. To this point, very few issues have been reported.

Early indications on the 2016 seed crop are that growers are seeing very low PVY levels with the grade and quality being very good to excellent.

The annual Potatoes New Brunswick Potato Conference and Trade Show was held Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017.


By Kevin Brubacher, General Manager, Ontario Potato Board

The 2016 growing season in Ontario proved to be challenging. Fortunately, as we moved into the harvest season the weather was favourable: dry and warmer than usual weather was beneficial for the growers to harvest a good quality crop in a timely fashion. Very few potatoes were left in the field and quality going into storage was excellent.

As of mid-December, we saw the effects of a very dry growing season. Low yields because of drought conditions were reflected in our inventory numbers. December holdings showed a significant drop in storage stocks compared to the same time last year. We expect to see very few storage problems with these potatoes.

The Ontario Potato Board hosted a successful 41st Annual General Meeting on Dec. 7, 2016. Highlights of the day were presentations from Dr. Eugenia Banks on innovative ways to detect late blight using spore trap technology, and Vanessa Currie showcasing 2016 Variety Trials.

In closing, we would like to welcome Dennis Van Dyke to the potato Industry. Dennis is the new vegetable crop specialist in charge of potatoes with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. Dennis is eager to learn about potatoes and we are confident he will be a great asset, not only to our industry here in Ontario, but across all of Canada


By Rodney Dingwell, Chair, PEI Potato Board

The Canadian Potato Storage Holdings Report for Dec. 1, 2016 reflects the strong early season processing use and fresh movement from P.E.I. and many other provinces. While our production in P.E.I. was up 3.5 per cent in 2016, our holdings as of Dec. 1 were only up 1.7 per cent. Prices have reflected the reduced production across Canada and in many parts of the United States, and growers in P.E.I. are looking forward to a positive marketing year.

On another positive note, post harvest testing for our seed crop was more than 60 per cent complete as of Dec. 12 and results are looking to be the best we have seen in many years. This means a good quality seed crop to ship to customers both at home and in export and North American markets.

P.E.I. representatives attended the National Potato Council (NPC) Potato Expo in San Francisco in early January, and were able to interact with colleagues from across North America. On a local level, plans are well underway for the many educational events available for growers during the busy winter meeting season: the United Potato Growers of Canada Partners Seminar in Charlottetown on Jan. 31; PEI Potato Day Feb. 14 in Charlottetown; and a wireworm information session held later in February. In between these dates there will be opportunities for growers to update their pesticide applicator certificates as well as attend workshops being planned by the Agrology Initiative to Increase Marketable Yields (AIM) project.

Grower consultation is taking place on a variety of important topics from program changes for the next Growing Forward program, set to begin in 2018, to gathering usage information that will be used to respond to the recent PMRA proposed decision on imidacloprid and the special review of two other neonicotinoids.


By Clément Lalancette, Directeur general, Les Producteurs de pommes de terre du Québec

The harvesting season went pretty well with close to perfect weather (the weather is never perfect for a grower, as you may know). The yield was average: some areas had very good yields and other areas had less than average yields.

The market situation is very different from last year, with almost two million cwt less production as of mid-December. The inventory for fresh market is 7.4 per cent less than last year at the same date, and 15.8 per cent less in processing. The good news is that the inventory in Eastern Canada is also much lower than last year.

We put a lot of effort into maintaining good fresh market prices, and in a season like this past year, that should be the case. But the pressure on price is very strong coming from food distributors. The game is changing with Costco and Walmart being more present in our market. Even if we put a lot of effort and money into giving potatoes a better image, the chain stores are still using it as a cheap produce to attract consumers. The culture of commodity must change.

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