Eye on the Nation



By Dan Sawatzky, General Manager, Keystone Potato Producers Association

Our annual conference, Manitoba Potato Production Days, was held at the end of January with excellent attendance. Industry support of this event is exceptional and is instrumental to the conference success.

The Manitoba Potato Partners Seminar is held the end of March with updates from UPGC and APRE, followed by our provincial potato research reporting activities.

Usage of the large crop in Manitoba is progressing well. Some quality issues continue to persist relating to the early disease pressure and weather related events including hail, wind and excess moisture experienced during the growing season. Vigilant storage management has been necessary to reduce losses. Limited sales of surplus are beginning to move. Growers continue to store some product without a home.

As of late February, provincial flood forecasts predicted flooding in most areas to be a major risk. Snowfall has been normal to above normal leading to the collapse of some farm buildings including a potato shed. Snow cover did recede with a few days of unusual thaws in late January and parts of February, but fields remain covered in snow. Soil moisture levels are high which also adds to the threat. An early, slow melt would reduce the threat and help with a timely start to planting.

With the trend of increasing yields, a correlating increase in target yields must also be planned for as spring approaches and seed is purchased. Production that is beyond demand does not help anyone in the potato industry. If we are to have a viable and healthy industry, supply must be balanced with demand.


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

The New Brunswick 2016 crop is storing very well with very few issues and excellent quality. The favourable season’s weather and excellent fall conditions created some variability in yields between the areas within New Brunswick, but overall the province’s yield is in line with the five-year average. New Brunswick growers planted fewer acres in all three sectors, and coupled with average yields, resulted in a more balanced supply of potatoes in inventory.

Processors are running at or near full capacity and started using new crop in the fall earlier than in previous years which, along with reduced acres and outside of the province processors sourcing within New Brunswick, results in less inventory of processing potatoes in the province. McCain Foods (Canada) is on track so far with the construction of the formed line at its Florenceville plant. The expectation is that this new line will be ready in time to process some of the 2016 crop.

Fresh table potato quality continues to be above average. Market demand was strong at the beginning of the shipping season but has slowed a bit in recent months. The high demand coupled with fewer acres planted has allowed the price to remain strong, and has resulted in fewer table potatoes in inventory at this time of the year than in recent years.

Seed quality in New Brunswick is as good this year as in previous years. The province’s seed potato industry continues to make positive strides in the management of PVY. Just over 98 per cent of this year’s seed has tested below New Brunswick’s PVY cap. The New Brunswick seed industry continues to use some of the best management practices available and it is rewarding to see the efforts of our growers in regards to the PVY results.

The New Brunswick Seed Potato Growers Association held their annual NB Seed Potato Day on March 6 in Grand Falls, where growers and industry representatives met for a full day of discussions around current issues, best management practices and research results in order to continue to make the New Brunswick seed potato industry a leader in the production of high quality seed potatoes.

Potatoes New Brunswick held its annual Potato Conference and Trade show on Feb. 2, 2017 also in Grand Falls. A full schedule of presenters spoke to a full crowd of growers and industry folks from New Brunswick, P.E.I., Maine and Quebec.


By Kevin Brubacher, General Manager, and Dr. Eugenia Banks, Potato Specialist, Ontario Potato Board

The 2017 Ontario Potato Conference and Trade Show was held on Feb. 28 at the Delta Hotel and Conference Center in Guelph. This conference is supported by the Ontario Potato Board and organized by Dr. Eugenia Banks.

Attendance exceeded expectations, with approximately 250 growers, crop consultants and industry personnel participating in the event. Among the attendees were delegates from Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Quebec, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta. There were 35 exhibitors at the trade show, which included displays of new potato varieties and the latest potato production technology.

Topics discussed at the conference included a presentation by Dr. Ian MacRae from the University of Minnesota, who spoke on “Down the road strategies to control the Colorado potato peetle.” This is an important topic for growers because of the pesticide re-evaluations being conducted by the PMRA. Dr. Steve Johnson from the University of Maine spoke about Dickeya, an emerging bacterial disease that has the potential to cause serious economic losses to growers.

Craig Hunter from the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association spoke about what potato production might look like with the re-evaluation of many of the current pesticides. Keith Kuhl, president of the Canadian Horticultural Council (CHC), discussed the council’s role: to influence government policies on issues that affect the ability of Canadian fruit and vegetable growers to operate effectively and profitably. Keith encouraged growers to respond promptly to CHC surveys and PMRA pesticide re-evaluations. The input of growers will ensure that crop protection products are maintained for future use.

Comments received from numerous attendees indicated the 2017 Potato Conference provided excellent, timely information for growers. It is an ever-expanding technology transfer event very well supported by the Ontario potato industry. Congratulations to Dr. Eugenia Banks on another very successful event.

Following the conference, a retirement reception was held for our former general manager Don Brubacher (retired). Many growers, along with industry representatives from across Canada, attended the festivities. It was a fitting send off for a man who has dedicated a lifetime to the potato industry. Thanks again Don!


By Rodney Dingwell, Chair, PEI Potato Board

Every year is different and presents challenges. Holdings and movement have been positive for P.E.I. potato growers so far this year. Production was 3.5 per cent above the 2015 crop year, but with strong movement early in the season, holdings were on par with the previous year by Feb. 1, 2017. Prices have remained strong.

As of the second week in March, one chip contract has been settled in P.E.I. while fry contract negotiations have just begun. Negotiations in P.E.I. take place until the last Friday in March – if no settlement is negotiated, mediation and arbitration timelines will come into play. At the time of writing, no settlements had been announced for any fry contracts across the country.

Post harvest test results for Island seed potatoes were very good, which will allow the industry to head into the 2017 planting season on a good note.

The time between the start of the New Year and planting is full of meetings and training opportunities for growers and industry personnel. New in 2017 are several hands-on workshop sessions being offered to growers through the new Agronomy Initiative for Marketable Yield program, sponsored by the Provincial Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Cavendish Farms contract growers and Cavendish Farms. Workshops are being offered at various locations across the province for growers and their employees in the areas of soil health, precision agriculture and seed handling. The format is small, short and local to make it easy for growers to fit a workshop into their day.

The potato industry in P.E.I. is proud to promote Agriculture in the Classroom by continuing to support the Spud in Tubs growing project with Grade 3 classes, and taking part in agriculture literacy activities during the month of March.


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

If we look at the prices on Quebec’s market one year ago at the same time as now (March 1, 2017), we can say that growers are much happier this year! And it is very easy to understand why. The first reason is that the stock in hand in Quebec in February is much lower than last year with 700,000 cwt less potatoes. The second reason is that the total production for the eastern provinces (Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island) was about 56 M cwt, almost 5.2 M cwt less than last year.

We used to say the eastern market is in balance when we produce 58 M cwt. Last year’s record yield had a huge impact on prices.

The picture is still not perfect and there are some clouds in the sky. We have a lot of pressure coming from the traditional distributors (the three majors) to reduce our prices. They are reacting to protect their market shares against Walmart and Costco, and the price is often the centre of their strategy.

But as long as we will be able to balance the demand and offerings in the eastern provinces, which is an integrated market, we will be able to get better prices.


By Desseri Ackerman, Manager, Saskatchewan Seed Potato Growers Association

Saskatchewan seed potato producers have good to strong sales, and prices have improved slightly. Exporting to other provinces and into the U.S. (Idaho and others) seem to be good.

Planned production for this spring will be about the same as last year, with potential for greater acres in future years. Snow cover this year is below normal. It is forecast that staffing may be easier this season.

Seed potatoes in storage look very good. Limited frost damage in the varieties harvested after rain incidents last fall is beginning to show up, but the issue is successfully being held in check.

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