Agronomy Eye On The Nation

Eye On The Nation

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New Brunswick

By Louis Ouellette, Market Information Co-ordinator
Potatoes New Brunswick

The 2014 New Brunswick potato planting season got off to a slower start than normal. A long, cold winter led to soil temperatures not warming up until the second half of May.

Once growers got on the fields, favourable planting weather saw the majority of crop get into the ground by June 11 or so. Regardless of the late start, if New Brunswick growers can get some co-operation from Mother Nature in terms of much-needed rain, the possibility remains for positive yields.

Overall acreages in the province this year may be slightly down from the 2013 season as the largest sector in our potato industry, french fry processing, has seen some volume reductions for the 2014 season.

New Brunswick’s seed potato sector is coming off one of its strongest seasons in regard to PVY virus levels. Using some of the industry’s best management practices, New Brunswick seed growers saw a large amount of field lots with zero per cent virus readings in 2013.

Prince Edward Island

By Gary Linkletter, Chairman
Prince Edward Island Potato Board

Planting wrapped up on schedule for most Island growers in early June, despite a late start for producers in areas that are traditionally early. The delay, however, had a silver lining for some growers who have been experiencing problems with wireworm as they were able to take advantage of the recent registration of Capture (bifenthrin) insecticide. In many cases, growers have been able to split fields to facilitate comparison between Capture and Thimet, which has been the only product available to growers in recent years to combat wireworm.

Wireworm remains top of mind as we head into the 2014 season in P.E.I. Losses in some locations were significant in 2013 as growers graded out blemished tubers to meet industry standards for table stock and processing markets. Considerable research is underway through the National Potato Research Cluster, complemented by local trials including a click beetle survey and many on-farm trials using rotation crops such as brown mustard and buckwheat.

Reduced shipments of P.E.I. potatoes within Canada were offset in 2013/2014 by increased shipments to the United States and offshore markets. Growers continue to utilize a variety of market reports and sales information to plan their production requirements and match supply to demand.

Quebec

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

Poutine is one of Quebec’s best-known food offerings to the world. Although there is much disagreement within Quebec regarding the plate’s origin, there is also a war of words over which restaurant in our province makes the best poutine! Even the Wall Street Journal wrote an article on the subject. If you go online and visit poutinewar.com, you will learn all you have to know about this heart-breaking (literally!) meal.

One thing is sure — to get a really good poutine, you need to use fresh cut fries instead of frozen. Quebec has a long history of small french fry booths serving small villages and towns. Most of Quebec’s french fry processors sell fresh pre-peeled potatoes, and about 30 growers are active in this market.

In other Quebec news, the new planting season went well with some delays, like in many other North American regions. We expect no big swings in acreage, but there are some concerns about contracts with chip processors. At the beginning of July, we launched a publicity campaign promoting new potatoes.

Manitoba

By Dan Sawatsky, General Manager
Keystone Potato Producers Association

In Manitoba, the extended winter and cool, wet spring delayed planting of the potato crop for the second consecutive year. The bulk of the processing crop was delayed more than last year, even though the planting start dates were similar at the beginning of May.  The majority of the crop was seeded in the middle to the last half of May, with some growers not able to begin planting until the end of May or early part of June. On average planting was 10 days later than normal. Some reseeding also occurred in the first and second week of June.

Fresh potato growers fared better than last year, wrapping up seeding earlier than in 2013. However, the starting dates for planting were also later than normal.

Planting conditions were less than ideal for a number of growers, which will have lingering effects throughout the season. Crop emergence on the first planted fields occurred during the first week of June.

Overall potato acreage in the province is down 10 per cent from last year, reflecting the volume cuts by processors. Processing acreage will likely be down by close to 14 per cent.

Old crop marketing has been steady, with all of the processing surplus spoken for. The 2013 crop yielded exceptionally well in spite of a late planting date.

Growers are hoping for a repeat of strong yields this year, realizing their field management and hard work is still dependent on favourable climatic conditions for a good crop.

Saskatchewan

By Desseri Ackerman, Manager
Saskatchewan Seed Potato Growers Association

Producers in Saskatchewan have reported that overall, 2013 sales were satisfactory; however, Russet Burbank seed potatoes showed poor sales.

Although Saskatchewan experienced a late spring and the weather had been cool, seeding and spring fieldwork for the 2014 crop year was well underway by mid-June. Excess moisture in the fields due to a delayed snowmelt caused only minor delays in seeding.

Saskatchewan producers have indicated that they planted slightly fewer acres this year, given the low prices and smaller market. While there are some reports of wireworm, an early assessment indicates that numbers are not excessive and it is expected there will be no effect on crop yield.

The Saskatchewan Seed Potato Growers Association is planning a field day for late August. Details will be posted on our website, sspga.com.

Alberta

By Terence Hochstein, Executive Director
Potato Growers of Alberta

Planting season in Alberta started out a bit on the late side this year in the south. We were about two weeks behind when we started, but with some warm days and excellent moisture the crop made up about half of that time. By mid-June we had complete emergence and the crop was off to an excellent start. The seed crop in the Edmonton area was still waiting to tie up some loose ends by the second week of June as excess moisture was the norm in many areas.

The 2013 processing crop should be cleaned up by the end of July or the first week of August, allowing some downtime for maintenance at the processing plants before the new crop starts coming in. Alberta growers were able to maintain their acreage volumes for 2014, although prices were down about three per cent compared to last year.

Our province-wide initiative on late blight education, a collaborative effort with Alberta Agriculture, potato growers, other industry members and the general public, has been very successful in terms of getting the word out to everyone that late blight is indeed a ‘community disease’. Our late blight speaker series, radio, YouTube video and good old-fashioned print campaigns involving greenhouses, garden centres and box stores, along with word of mouth, allowed that message to be sent across the province.

Anyone with potato or tomato plants showing signs of late blight were given an opportunity to drop off samples at designated sites across the province for further testing. This undertaking is driven with the hope of Alberta gaining back its ‘Late Blight-Free Status’ once again.

British Columbia

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

The start of the B.C. potato year comes early compared to other Canadian producing jurisdictions. Planting for the early season ‘nugget’ market begins when spring weather breaks, with this usually occurring around mid- to late-March each year.

This year was no exception. With a mix of both good and not so good days for planting during the period from late March through to the third week of April, steady progress was made for getting the nugget crop in the ground. With steady to better weather compared to some other years in terms of temperatures and moisture, the harvesting of the ‘nugget’ crop was underway in the Fraser Valley by mid-June. All reports point to a good crop in terms of both yield and quality. As these nugget potatoes are not skin set, they are perishable and have to be marketed as quickly as possible to ensure they are at their peak of freshness and flavour when on offer at retailers.

By the third week of June, planting for mid- and late-season potatoes of all colours and varieties had been reported to be complete for the Vancouver Island, Fraser Valley and B.C. Interior production areas. Seasoned potato producers who have managed a number of crops over the years are optimistic that with seeding having gone as smoothly as it did, the continuation of favourable conditions for crop growth and maturation over the summer should result in a good harvest for yield and quality come September and October.

The number of seeded acres in British Columbia this year is expected to be similar to what has been the case for the past three years. The potato crop profile — variety and colour — is not expected to be much changed compared to last year.

2014 Northeast Potato Technology Forum

By Loretta Mikitzel, Potato Physiologist
Potato Development Centre, N.B. Department of Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries

New Brunswick hosted the 22nd annual Northeast Potato Technology Forum on March 12 and 13. More than 65 participants from New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Quebec and Maine attended this two-day meeting at the Crowne Plaza Lord Beaverbrook Hotel in Fredericton, N.B.

The program consisted of 21 presentations highlighting the latest potato research conducted in Atlantic Canada. Topics included potato virus Y (PVY) management, tuber antioxidant content, mapping field variability, phosphites for disease control, new fertilizer formulations, soil compaction, near-infrared spectroscopy and Brassica cover crops. As in past years, Syngenta sponsored a hospitality suite for the delegates on the evening of March 12.

Among the presentations were examples of Atlantic Canada-based research that could be applicable in many potato-growing regions across the country.

Rick Peters, an Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada potato pathologist based in Charlottetown, P.E.I., discussed resistance of the pink rot pathogen Phytophthora erythroseptica to metalaxyl-m fungicide. Peters tested 195 isolates from across Canada and found that approximately three-quarters of the isolates were sensitive to metalaxyl-m and one-quarter showed some level of resistance to the chemical.  Most of the isolates with resistance to metalaxyl-m were recovered from Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario and Manitoba. All of the isolates collected from British Columbia and Alberta were metalaxyl-m sensitive.

Peters’ research indicates the range and distribution of metalaxyl-m resistant isolates is expanding in Canada. The widespread occurrence of metalaxyl-m resistance raises concerns about the efficacy of applying this type of fungicide for pink rot control, and may help show the important role played by phosphites in the management of this disease.

Mathuresh Singh of Agricultural Certification Services, Inc. based in Fredericton outlined recent advances in mathematical modeling to increase the understanding of environmental and management factors affecting the spread of PVY in commercial potato fields. He monitored the spread of PVY in 42 fields between 2010 and 2013 and found that the single strongest factor explaining on-farm PVY spread was the number of insecticide-supplemented mineral oil sprays applied throughout the season.

Singh’s research indicates mineral oil alone caused a substantially weaker reduction in spread. Seed-borne PVY, early-season aphid abundance, high June temperatures and low numbers of days with rain in June were all significantly associated with increased PVY spread. His prediction model — which uses the data available in the middle of the growing season at least six weeks before harvest — is strongly predictive of PVY status in the harvested tubers.

New Brunswick has a government regulatory threshold of five per cent PVY and his model correctly predicted whether the harvested crop would exceed the threshold or not in more than 90 per cent of the study fields. Singh concluded that best management practices that contribute to reducing on-farm spread of PVY include increased use of foliar-spray insecticide, later planting of the crop, and shorter times between planting and first oil/insecticide spray.

The Northeast Potato Technology Forum is held annually and rotates between three locations: New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and the U.S. state of Maine. The upcoming 2015 forum will be held in Maine.