Eye on the Nation, PEI, Alberta, Manitoba, British Columbia Spud Smart Winter 2011

Prince Edward Island | Alberta | Manitoba | British Colombia


Prince Edward Island

By Boyd Rose,
Prince Edward Island Potato Board

It is hard to believe that this will be my last report as chair of the P.E.I. Potato Board. I’ve completed my second term as chair, and I am pleased to advise that Gary Linkletter has been elected as our new chairman for the coming year.

The 2010 North American potato crop should be a profitable one for growers to market. Supplies are tight in many parts of the world due to the following crop developments in 2010:
• Canada and the United States—the 2010 fall potato crop was down by 36 million cwt from a year ago;
• EU “Big Five” (Holland, Belgium, Germany, France and the United Kingdom)—production is down almost 24 million cwt from a year ago;
• Russia—the 2010 crop was devastated by severe weather, and the Russian government estimates production was short by an amount equal to 10 times the total P.E.I. crop, or three times the total Canadian crop.

Due to those factors, and problems in other producing areas, demand will exceed supply this year. In Prince Edward Island, we’ve seen strong offshore exports right from the beginning of the 2010 shipping season, and our movement to U.S. markets has also increased. We expected fresh prices to be much higher than what we actually experienced from October to December, and it seems buyers and growers in other parts of Eastern Canada needed to hear that Prince Edward Island was actually exporting potatoes to Russia before they would truly believe the tight supply and demand situation. Our tablestock exports to Russia began in December 2010, and several of our P.E.I.-licensed potato export companies are now active in that market. Grower prices have increased steadily for that business, and at the time of writing in late December, we believe major increases are near.

Exporters have assessed the Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick supply situation and they recognize the volatility of the market this year. Most have indicated that they are not willing to quote prices more than two weeks in advance as they do not want to be caught in a squeeze due to escalating prices. Fresh prices in Eastern Canada should also be moving upward so our available supply moves into the market in the most rational way, for the benefit of growers, buyers and consumers. Enjoy this marketing season, and keep acreage in check for 2011.

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By Edzo Kok,
Potato Growers of Alberta

The majority of the potato acreage in Alberta is in a climatic zone that would not support potato production without irrigation. Fortunately, past generations saw the potential of the land and the opportunity to capture and use the annual run-off from the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains for irrigation. The development of an irrigation system comprised of 7,000 kilometres of canals and pipelines, and enough reservoir storage capacity for an entire crop year, has allowed southern Alberta to evolve into the most productive potato region in Canada.

Irrigation has evolved over the years from the original flood systems and wheel lines to centre pivots, which started with high-pressure sprinklers and now run on low-pressure drop tubes. Improvements to the irrigation network and delivery systems have resulted in a 30 per cent increase in water-use efficiency since measurements were started. Growers and irrigation associations continue to look for more ways to increase efficiencies through the use of modern technology.

Many growers have converted their irrigation systems to allow for remote access to their operational features via computer or cell phone. It is no longer necessary to go to the field to stop or start a pivot, or to check if it is still running. Growers receive alarms on their phones or computers if a system experiences a fault, and they can immediately disable it before any potential waste or damage occurs. Application rates can be adjusted from a grower’s office computer or laptop, and if it starts to rain, the system will ask if it should shut down.

Variable speed pumps are saving energy and reducing pumping costs, and recent technology is now offering a precision water application option through ground moisture sensing that communicates with the irrigation system. While all of this makes it seem like the grower can handle all irrigation tasks from the office or phone, you would be hard-pressed to find a potato grower who doesn’t still drive by the fields at least once a day!

Don’t miss the PGA’s United Potato Partners seminar being held in Lethbridge on February 1, 2011. Visit www.albertapotatoes.ca for all of the details.

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By Garry J. Sloik,
Keystone Potato Producers’ Association

Since the fall report, it is now apparent that Mother Nature reduced Manitoba growers’ crops to the point that they will not meet their total contract commitments. Some early storage losses and extra grading by producers have reduced the volume available. The good news is the balance of potatoes in storage seems to be storing well. The quality is good, with a large size profile, generally good gravities and good colour.

While the storage season is a long way from over, some agronomists believe that phosphorus acid, either in the field or on the tubers going into storage, has provided a significant benefit. This past season in Manitoba showed the need for such products and the need for research to confirm whether or not the benefits are consistent. Surely, this is an area where harmonization with the United States would keep growers on a more level playing field.


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British Colombia

By Tom Demma,
BC Vegetable Marketing Commission

The 2010–11 potato season could not have been more disappointing for British Columbia potato producers.

Although Interior growers experienced an average year yield-wise, with good tuber size and quality, this was not the case for Fraser Valley and Vancouver Island potato growers. Rain starting just prior to harvest of mid-season varieties and continuing throughout harvest time for later maturing varieties resulted in an unprecedented number of unharvested acres this year. Due to standing water between the rows and unrelenting, sodden soil conditions, growers spot harvested table and seed potato fields where and when they could; however, in the end, the lost volume has resulted in a challenging situation for most B.C. potato businesses.

Harvested potatoes that entered storage were of good size and quality. Good quality continues as no storage issues are evident. Nonetheless, given the hardships growers faced, the orderly marketing of the lower volume 2010 tablestock crop during the early months of 2011 is of primary importance.

At this time, the landscape is one in which growers anxiously await springtime with rutted potato fields and farm roads requiring extra work to prepare for seeding the early, mid and late 2011 potato crops. Clearly, a better year is in order, and all eyes will be looking skyward this spring.

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