AgronomyEye On The Nation

Eye On The Nation

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Quebec

By Clement LaLancette, General Manager
Federation des Producteurs de Pommes de Terre du Quebec

In 2010, 2011 and 2012, Quebec potato producers participated in a project to determine the efficacy of using the Miléos forecasting model to control potato late blight disease (Phytophthora infestans), compared to preventative systematic fungicide treatments. The project was financed by the Canadian Agricultural Adaptation Program.

The Miléos model was developed by Arvalis, a French vegetal institute, and a French government agency as a way to better predict conditions where fungicide treatments to protect against potato late blight could be applied in an analytical, reasoned manner. This forecasting model is very thorough as it takes several factors into consideration, such as meteorological data (temperature, relative humidity, rainfall), plant variety sensitivity, planting and emergence date, plant growth (active, stabilized), the sanitary conditions around and within the plot (environmental data) and any interventions performed (fungicide treatments or irrigations).

This forecasting model equally integrates all aspects of the developmental biology of late blight. The compilation of all the data allows for the calculation of risk of disease development and treatment recommendations. Potato late blight disease is very aggressive and destructive, but several factors must occur in order for it to develop, including plants susceptible to attack, favourable climatic conditions and the presence of a virulent pathogenic agent.

Traditionally in Quebec, the control of potato late blight is based on a strategy of systematic fungicide treatments made every seven to 10 days, without considering the risks related to disease development. As such, growers could apply up to 12 fungicide treatments per season.  In the spirit of sustainable development, such a strategy is difficult to justify. For economic, agronomic, environmental and public health reasons, the use of a forecasting model capable of reducing the number of fungicide applications appears to be an essential approach to evaluate and implement.

The results of this project demonstrate that depending on the weather conditions of the production season, it is possible to significantly reduce the number of treatments without affecting the yields. For participating growers in Quebec, using the Miléos model resulted in the reduction in the number of fungicide treatments by up to 80 per cent in one season.

At the onset of the study, participating growers learned to master the use of the Miléos model and to better understand how it functioned. At the beginning of the project, some growers were nervous at the idea of waiting more than seven days without treating, but they learned to trust the model’s recommendations.  After the first season, these same growers observed that the model was working and the majority adopted recommendations from the Miléos model in their own fields. In the mid-term, we hope to use the Miléos model with several growers in each of Quebec’s potato-producing regions. We therefore believe that it is possible to use this model on a large scale in Quebec.

British Columbia

By Tom Demma, General Manager
B.C. Vegetable Marketing Commission

At this time of year, British Columbia potato producers are engaged in activities that will position them for being ready for 2014 production and completing marketing of the 2013 storage crop.

The British Columbia 2013 crop is characterized as having average yield with excellent quality. There was good demand and good prices for the early potato crop, while potatoes now being sold from storage are also of excellent quality and are experiencing steady demand. When comparing prices at this time of the year to the same period last year, they are comparable or slightly better.

Producer decisions about varieties to plant in 2013 resulted in a slightly different crop make-up as red and yellow potato varieties appear to have been preferred over others. Nonetheless, white and Russet potatoes continue to command significant attention in the provincial potato planting mix.

It is too early to get overly enthused about what is ahead for the customary early white British Columbia potato crop. That’s because as of early February, the weather had been unseasonably cold and there were no hints of spring evident. Whatever the weather vagaries might be, producers who normally plant early white potatoes are gearing up so to be ready to plant when the opportunity presents itself.

Overall, the 2013-14 crop year is characterized as favourable with most, if not all, producers enjoying reasonable returns for the volumes marketed.

New Brunswick

By Matt Hemphill, Executive Director
Potatoes New Brunswick

New Brunswick’s 2013 potato crop is storing very well. The quality of potatoes for processing is consistent with an average year and holdings in the province is on par with other years. The fresh crop is also cleaning up well. Although holdings are below the previous year, it is mainly due to fewer acres being planted to fresh in the province in 2013.

Fresh packers are investing in technology to combat typical defects in potatoes such as hollow heart. This investment allows New Brunswick packers to put the best possible product into retail stores for our customers.

Seed quality in New Brunswick has never been better. New Brunswick continues to lead the industry on PVY management. More than 95 per cent of our seed this year tested below three per cent for PVY! This is something we are extremely proud of as people in our industry pulled together to make it happen and we will continue to strive for excellence in seed production. Potatoes New Brunswick along with our seed organization, the New Brunswick Seed Potato Growers Association, held our annual PVY workshop in February. This workshop pulls together the industry to present, discuss, and challenge each other in an attempt to get better at PVY management. This year we accomplished just that!

Potatoes New Brunswick held its annual potato conference and trade show on Feb. 6 to a packed house in Grand Falls. The list of speakers included Maureen Storey from the Alliance for Potato Research and Education as well as provincial and federal government researchers and more.

Potatoes New Brunswick also presented updates on research projects such as our drone technology project, and announced a new four-year agronomy project that will study all aspects related to increasing yields. The main focus of this project will be the four verticals of potato production: soil and water management, seed improvements, science and technology, and economics.

Manitoba

By Dan Sawatzky, Manager
Keystone Potato Producers Association

Spring brings with it optimism and anticipation of the coming growing season. Winter’s grip in Manitoba has been tight with the second coldest December recorded since 1893 and headlines in mid-February suggesting this winter may also be one of the coldest in recent history. The cold coupled with above-average snowfall leaves us beginning to wonder if spring will be delayed, as it was in 2013. The cold has created challenges and costs associated with the storage of potatoes.

Our inventory is high in both the fresh and processing sectors. Seed sales have also been sluggish, reflecting notification of volume uncertainty and reductions by the processors. The majority of surplus production from the 2013 crop has been spoken for, with about 350,000 hundredweight still open.

Growers must once again attempt to plant according to their land’s productivity to bring provincial supply in line with demand. Improved water management and land selection have contributed to an escalating yield trend. Continued research and education are also contributing to improved levels of management, translating into increased yields.

Manitoba Potato Production Days, held in Brandon during the last week of January, saw record attendance. A number of knowledgeable speakers presented on topics related to potato agronomy. The United Potato Grower Partners meeting held on Feb. 26 garnered a lot of interest. Our annual spring production meeting scheduled for April 8 will highlight Manitoba potato research with reports from those involved in private, university, provincial and federal government research projects. Information and updates will also be provided by affiliated entities.

Prince Edward Island

By Gary Linkletter, Chairman
Prince Edward Island Potato Board

Many people in the non-farming community are under the impression that winter is a fairly relaxed season for potato farmers. However, as all of us in the industry are well aware, nothing could be further from the truth. Between updating our certifications for programs such as food safety and pesticide application, business planning, getting our crop to market and attending grower information sessions, winter is extremely busy.

In Prince Edward Island this season, producers have had many excellent educational opportunities. One of the hot button topics in our industry these days is how we are going to contain the threat posed by wireworm. A grower information day was held in Charlottetown in early February and was well attended by growers from across the province. A wide range of topics was covered by presentations on the biology of this pest as well as details on ongoing research projects looking at various control measures and strategies that growers can now use, including rotation crops, tillage and chemistry to start to reduce or maintain low levels of wireworm in potato fields. It will take time and innovation to build an effective control strategy when dealing with such a hardy soil-borne pest with a long life cycle.

The International Potato Technology Expo, held every two years in Charlottetown, took place on Feb. 21 and 22. Once again this provided an excellent forum for growers to gather and learn about the latest in products and machinery that are available to us to help us grow in a profitable manner. The breakfast session covered results from research into the physiological age of seed and how this affects resulting tuber size and number, an update from Farm Credit Canada, and a series of presentations on the progress potato farmers in P.E.I. are making in the area of environmental stewardship. The trade show provided displays on the latest in potato varieties, potato handling equipment, information technology products, etc.

There’s been many other workshops over the winter season, sponsored by such groups as the United Potato Growers of Canada, the P.E.I. Soil and Crop Improvement Association, and the Federation of Agriculture and product suppliers, to name a few. Chances to see the latest advancements and discuss new products and developments with other producers helps to keep our farms in the forefront.

Alberta

By Terence Hochstein, Executive Director
Potato Growers of Alberta

Alberta continues to have a good winter in regard to tubers maintaining their quality in storage. Considering that growers in the south had to deal with their fair share of late blight this past summer, there has been very little ill effect to the tubers currently in storage. The diligent practices that the growers underwent during the growing season and into harvest seem to be paying huge dividends in regards to delivering top quality potatoes to the processors.

Prior to our spring area meetings in mid-March, Potato Growers of Alberta held what we hope will be an annual event.  Part 1 in a three-part speaker series on late blight was held in two sessions, Feb. 26 in Taber and Feb. 28 in Edmonton. The focus of this forum is to increase awareness and knowledge about late blight to enhance Alberta’s seed potato industry.

Part 1 of this late blight speaker series included presentations from Michael Harding and Ron Howard of Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development, and Larry Kawchuk and Rick Peters of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Part 2 will be in early June, featuring a presentation from Phil Hamm of Oregon State University, while Part 3 will be featured at our annual general meeting in Red Deer in November. We are planning to continue this forum each year, to give all the growers and industry representatives an opportunity to obtain all the latest information on relevant topics chosen for each series.

Contract negotiations are now underway across North America and the underlying tone this year is better efficiencies and increased yields, while at the same time decreasing grower costs. It is great to see the camaraderie amongst the different growing areas of North America as we all begin one of the toughest, yet rewarding, aspects of our industry.

As we all wait for the snow to melt and winter to leave us behind, we hope for another spring of warm temperatures and look forward to the prospect of another successful year. Where else but in agriculture can you start each year with a whole new set of game plans and a renewed sense of optimism?

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