AgronomyEye on the Nation

Eye on the Nation


By Edzo Kok, Executive Director
Potato Growers of Alberta

Near-perfect harvest conditions allowed Alberta growers to get the 2011 crop safely under cover before there was any threat of serious frost. A common factor across the province was the amount of soil that had to be dealt with this year—a result of the wet planting conditions this spring. Most growers had no choice but to plant into wet fields in May, creating those lumps that just stayed there throughout the season, eventually getting delivered to the storages to be separated from the crop. The wet start to the year also resulted in a substantial number of lost acres and emergence issues in waterlogged fields. Summer and fall weather returned to normal with extended periods where temperatures reached 30 degrees Celsius. Rainfall was minimal in the south, allowing growers to completely manage the crop with their irrigation systems. Central Alberta received more rainfall than required and the northern district received regular, timely rains.

The early off-field crop was less than average, which was expected as a result of the late, wet spring. The storage crop remained healthy right up to harvest, and the yields and quality made up for any shortcomings in the early crop. Overall, despite early losses to moisture, the 2011 crop will meet volume commitments. The maturity of this crop will also result in a higher, more consistent quality than the previous year. The absence of serious pest and disease issues will also enhance the storability of the crop. In summary, it was a tough start, but a good finish.

Upcoming event: Alberta Potato Conference and Trade Show
November 15–17, 2011
Deerfoot Inn and Casino, Calgary, Alberta
For details and registration information, visit


Potato Research Centre
By John Morrison, Regional Communications Officer
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

Potato germplasm from Peru and other Latin American countries is the source of many important traits of interest for potato breeders, including disease and pest resistance and enhanced nutrition. However, several breeding cycles across many decades may be required to incorporate this beneficial diversity into Canadian potato varieties adapted to long-day conditions. Scientists at the International Potato Center (CIP) in Lima, Peru, have developed innovative breeding strategies to overcome this challenge. In collaboration with CIP scientists, David De Koeyer, a scientist at the Potato Research Centre, has initiated field and laboratory experiments to identify the genes in potatoes that are most critical in controlling the performance of potato varieties in environments with differing day lengths. Data collected from these experiments will be combined with DNA marker and sequence data to help researchers identify critical genes for adaptation to contrasting environments.
Meanwhile, the majority of construction work on the Potato Gene Resources Repository’s new laboratory at the PRC is complete, and final commissioning is underway to ensure that all systems are operating and meet expectations. The facility is expected to meet international standards by providing adequate security of the germplasm in the repository as well as the required space to support the work in an efficient and secure manner. The in vitro accessions are scheduled to increase over the next several years; therefore, efficiency is essential to the success of the repository. They include modern Canadian-bred potato cultivars, heritage cultivars, selected breeding parents and many clones used in research, such as standards for evaluation testing and as indicators for disease pathotypes.


By Garry J. Sloik, Manager
Keystone Potato Producers’ Association

As this article is being written—just after Thanksgiving—the very last potatoes from this extremely trying year are being put in the bin.
The late spring was a sign of the difficulties to come. Most processing potatoes were planted two weeks later than they have been in the past few years, but about 25 per cent were planted up to a month later, with some June plantings. June plantings in Manitoba significantly reduce the potential of Russet Burbanks, especially when followed by September frosts that provide a free top-kill. On top of the late planting, too much rainfall in May and June hurt acreage that did not have perfect internal drainage. This period, in most areas, was followed by drought for the balance of the growing season, and well above normal temperatures in late August and early September. The flooding of the Assiniboine River also affected quite a number of producers, who either had to move acreage or struggled to obtain irrigation water, as a number of pump sites were lost.

Despite all of the challenging weather-related events, the potato crop is now in the bin, and in good shape. Yields are less than what producers and processors had planned for, but there are a number of things to be thankful for: late blight wasn’t the issue that the industry anticipated; harvest didn’t have many interruptions; the crop, generally, appears to be very storable; specific gravity and quality are near average; and, finally, the markets appear to be stable, and the processors will need more volume next year.


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

What a difference a year makes! This time last year, with the exception of the Interior, the B.C. potato crop was virtually under water. Sustained rain during the last days of August, which was unrelenting for much of September, resulted in a much-reduced 2010 potato crop—harvesting was impeded and in most instances impractical, particularly when considering production insurance indemnification. Marketing data from 2010–2011 reflects the 2010 crop loss situation. What was experienced by B.C. potato sector stakeholders during the 2010 harvest season will be long remembered.

At the time of writing in early October, the 2011 B.C. potato main crop is 75 per cent harvested and in storage. Despite hard going to cover the ground due to an extended period of less than favourable weather, many growers have reported that harvesting is complete. Larger scale growers still have ground to cover. With co-operative weather, harvest of the remaining acres is expected to occur by mid-October. Although spotty acreage abandonment is expected to be the case on some farms due to unsuitable harvest conditions, its occurrence is not expected to be widespread. On a province-wide basis, few unharvested acres are expected.

The potato storage crop, including red, yellow, white and russet varieties, is average in yield and tuber size. This average crop performance comes after a long, cold spring where late planting in the Fraser Valley and on Vancouver Island was the general experience for most growers. A spate of sunny, warm weather in late August and early September was welcomed and facilitated crop maturity and afforded top killing whereby harvesting could occur at customary times.

There are no reports of quality concerns for potatoes now going into storage. When in future months the potatoes come out of storage and are made ready for marketing, a plentiful supply of high-quality B.C. storage potatoes is expected.

Despite the 2010 short potato crop, B.C. consumers found potatoes on retailers’ shelves throughout the 2010–2011 potato storage crop marketing season. However, many were not B.C. potatoes. B.C. potato marketers are taking measures to see that local B.C. potatoes are front and centre this year. By doing so, B.C. potato growers hope to rebound from a disastrous year in 2010 and be poised to begin the next cycle in the spring of 2012.


Prince Edward Island
By Gary Linkletter, Chairman
Prince Edward Island Potato Board

We had a slight delay to main crop harvest on Prince Edward Island, with heavy rains and a few days of wet, windy weather. Once started, growers worked steadily between showery weather to get the crop into the warehouse in a timely manner. The quality and type looked very good going into storage, and the crop going to market should be excellent. Now, the main question on growers’ minds will be: What price will we receive for our crops this year?

As growers, we tend to be very production-oriented and we have to be reminded that our main purpose is not to empty the bins, but to fill the bank account. If we sell 100 per cent of our crop at $1.00/ten, or if we sell 90 per cent of our crop at $1.50/ten, and dump the remaining 10 per cent of good spuds to culls, in which scenario are we better off? It is a hard thing to do, but the second option is better, even if we never get to move that magic load of spuds sitting on the back wall of the bin. It is the black ink on the bank account which allows us to plant a crop again next year, not the empty bin.
While the force of supply and demand in our marketing region sets the tone for prices, growers can influence the direction the local overall price takes by what they are willing to accept for a price. Our grower organization, including the United Potato Growers and provincial boards and agencies, are working together to supply some tools that provide pricing and production information to growers, so that when a buyer calls with an offer, growers will know if it is on the low or high side of the market before agreeing to a price.

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