Eye on the Nation Spud Smart Spring 2011

Prince Edward Island | Alberta | Manitoba | British Colombia


Prince Edward Island

By Gary Linkletter,
Prince Edward Island Potato Board

In my new role as chair of the P.E.I. Potato Board, I’m pleased to bring greetings to Canadian potato growers, and to share some information on issues of importance to our growers and industry.

We’ve had a good to high-quality crop of P.E.I. potatoes, and we’ve been fortunate to experience an exceptional market environment in which to move the crop this year. North American storage holdings are relatively low, and export demand has been very strong. To February 15th, we’ve shipped fresh P.E.I. potatoes to 29 different countries, versus 17 countries last year. While there are a few new markets in this mix, most are markets to which we have historically shipped to some extent. The main difference this year is that many of these markets have purchased more potatoes than “normal.” This has allowed us to increase our total fresh shipments by over 20 per cent, year to date.

Prices to the grower have not been as strong as we feel they should have been, given the North American and global supply situation, but they have been gradually strengthening. Our potato dealers, along with other packers and dealers in Eastern Canada, are receiving many more enquiries from the United States as well, so we expect movement to that market will be good into the spring. Processing has lagged a little, but it has picked up speed, and demand for seed potatoes has been steady. Our post-harvest test results were good this year, and seed for many varieties will be tight across North America.

We have major concerns regarding potato acreage intentions for 2011. It is very clear that Eastern Canada would have had far too many potatoes to sell if other producing areas had not experienced major losses in 2010. We cannot expect those areas to experience similar losses in 2011; therefore, as growers, we have to think long and hard about our potato acreage for 2011. A number of alternative crops have potential for good returns, and may be sensible options for many growers who wish to reduce potato acres. We need to work together to promote the potato and potato consumption/usage, and we’re happy to see some new initiatives in that direction. However, until consumption increases, extreme caution is needed as we consider our cropping plans for 2011. We will be emphasizing that here in Prince Edward Island, and hope others share this perspective.

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By Garry J. Sloik,
Keystone Potato Producers’ Association

Manitoba Processing Potato Scene

The balance of the 2010 crop is storing well and the processors will be running until the end of July. This has been a trying year for producers, as the threat of blight was constant from mid-June right through harvest. Some areas were rewarded for their hard work and vigilance with well above normal yields. Other areas experienced significant crop losses due to excess rainfall and saturated soils but were still faced with significant fungicide costs.

In the past five years, all producers have been faced with tough decisions on increasing the investment to remain in the potato business or exit the industry during the industry contraction. The investments include additional irrigation infrastructure—pivots, pipelines and reservoirs; new or replacement storage costs, along with more heaters, humidification and upgraded storage controls; for some areas, increased varis mapping to eliminate the least productive areas of fields or relocation to new land bases; replacing and upgrading specialized equipment; and for another group, the expense of tile drainage and improved drainage to remove this water. These tough decisions have led to the loss of about 20 per cent of the growers in the past five years. The opportunity for good returns on cereals, oilseeds and other special crops can also be a factor.

In true farmer fashion, the optimists continue to rise to the challenge and combat whatever obstacles nature musters. This article is a salute to the progressive, hard-working, innovative survivors.


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British Colombia

By Tom Demma,
BC Vegetable Marketing Commission

B.C. potato growers located in the three growing areas of the province, namely, the Fraser Valley, Interior and Vancouver Island, are optimistically looking forward to 2011 for seeding potatoes entering into fresh and storage potato markets through the 2011/12 crop year. Given the poor harvesting weather experienced in British Columbia last year, which resulted in as much as one-half of the total provincial seeded area being unharvested, it is hoped that the coming crop year will be a normal to better than normal one. An above normal crop in regard to both yield and tuber size profile will lend itself to a much-needed recovery.

At this time of year, B.C. potato growers are gearing up to sourcing and arranging for taking delivery of seed potatoes, as well as keeping a watchful eye on the cost of crop inputs, in particular, fuel, fertilizer and crop protection material. This year, farm input costs are generally trending upward throughout North America, with British Columbia being no exception. Offsetting the higher input costs is the projection for good 2011/12 potato prices in the United States and Canada; however, this is dependent upon the total number of acres seeded to fall potatoes in both countries this spring. Compared with 2010, it is expected that B.C. potato growers, including seed growers, will seed a similar number of acres to potatoes.

Remunerative opportunities for non-potato crops in other major North American production areas that form part of customary crop rotation practices will influence spring 2011 potato planting decisions, and in the end, the total number of acres seeded to fall potatoes throughout North America. Also influencing potato seeding decisions are the prevailing fundamental demand dynamics for finished frozen potato products and fresh market potatoes. Important to British Columbia potato growers is the annual russet potato supply intended for both end uses, and what may occur during the storage crop marketing season in the western United States in the way of russet potato supplies converting from one intended end use to the other.

The current offshore demand for Canadian fresh, whole potatoes now being shipped to other than North American large volume potato production areas, which experienced poor crops in 2010, should not be expected to reoccur during the 2011/12 production and marketing period. The occurrence of these market opportunities is bolstering potato prices in parts of Canada and potentially in the United States.

As in other years—and not expected to be different this year—what actually occurs in the way of total acres seeded to fall potatoes throughout North America is a key future price determinant, as are yield, quality and tuber size profile variables. As information becomes available for these variables, a clearer picture of the 2011/12 potato supply and attendant price outlook will result.

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