Here is your provincial potato association updates from across Canada for the fall 2021 issue of Spud Smart.
By: Terence Hochstein, executive director of the Potato Growers of Alberta
One of the strongest attributes of anyone involved in the agricultural industry, is eternal optimism. Every spring when a farmer plants their crop, they believe it’s going to be a great one. This is the year we are going to hit it out of the park is always the attitude that’s needed to be involved in this industry. With acres up this year in all sectors, the growers were looking forward to putting the 2020 crop year behind them. Alberta, like the rest of the western half of North America, started out great, but ran into the late June, early July eternal heat wave. Couple that with very little moisture in dryland areas and irrigation that couldn’t keep up and here we are in September with less than an optimal crop.
This abnormal weather event was a first for growers here in Alberta. Normally when the heat arrives in mid-July, we already have row closure, and the plants can handle the heat. This year with the heat wave coming around June 22, there was no row closure, leading to much of the crop dropping a portion or all of its first set. After that everything went sideways, with a small or no second set, heat runners and the tubers which did survive being anything but pretty. Forty days of extreme heat, excessive smoke and no moisture has ed to a harvest which will be one for the books. A late, open frost-free fall will help what crop is there to bulk up, short of that it will leave many storage sheds less than full.
Happy harvest everyone, stay safe.
By: Hugh Reynolds with Reynalda Farms in Delta, B.C.
The British Columbia fall potato harvest season is off to a good start. The good open spring gave most crops an early start to 2021 with the majority of the crop being planted by mid-May. An extended dry period started June 15 and stretched longer than usual as a “heat dome” settled over western North America. The high heat checked the growth of many fields and many plants set new tubers when the cooler weather returned. We have experienced some early maturing of potatoes from the heat, as well as upon test digs, minor instances of sprouting potatoes in the ground before harvesting.
This year’s crop profile would be considered average when compared to the past decade, although some varieties are smaller profiled compared to 2020’s exceptional year for size and yield. Overall, the crop has come off well, albeit with a small/medium profile. There has been earlier than anticipated good yields, along with very good demand at the retail and foodservice sectors. This is expected to continue, especially at retail into the fall as consumers work their way back into the routines which accompany back to school and shorter daylight limiting outside activities.
The pandemic continues to affect buying habits. Retail shoppers are pleased to see a strong selection of various sizes and grades to suit their grocery budget as the majority of meals are still being prepared at home.
B.C. growers are focussed on harvest as early fall rains can wreak havoc on our soils primarily formed of glacier flour from the mountains — just a few inches of rain can have a huge impact on our harvest. A strong growing season has allowed many growers to start pitting earlier this year and the weather is generally cool enough to allow it.
Looking at the variety trial test digs it seems we will have good healthy and mature potatoes, although total yield will probably be slightly lower than the large harvest of 2020. Softer pressure tests being experienced on potatoes this year may culminate in some issues during the grading process as we get deeper into the actual storage crop season, but this in an unknown at this time.
Potato prices are consistent with prior seasons and rotation crop prices are robust helping the bottom line in a year when input prices have been above average.
By: Dan Sawatzky, general manager of the Keystone Potato Producers Association
The story of the summer in Manitoba this year was the heat coupled with the ongoing drought. The average high daytime temperature from June 1 through Sept. 1 was 28 C. The month of July alone recorded over 30 C on more than half the days.
Rainfall during the majority of growing season varied between 40 and 70 per cent of normal for potato growing regions of the province. This kept the farms that had access to water busy irrigating adding additional expense. This shortfall in precipitation followed the driest winter in many years which meant some irrigation reservoirs weren’t able to be filled in the spring resulting in some fields without adequate watering.
The third week of August brought some much-needed relief with cooler weather and some significant rainfall. For some of the early varieties the rain came too late to make a difference but for later varieties it was welcome and should add to yield.
Direct harvesting began on Aug. 10 with varied yield results early on. As the season moved on yields generally have improved with the later fields seeing some yields come in close to average expectations. Storage Russet Burbank harvest is still ahead of us at the time of writing at the start of September, and it’s unknown to what extent yield and quality was affected by the heat and drought although we do know that some of the early set was dropped.
With the main harvest just around the corner the excitement of putting the crop in the bins builds for those who are harvesting their first crop or their 60th crop. Equipment is ready and the staff is in place. Hopefully the existing and additional shed space will all be used. Trusting that the weather will cooperate, and all will have an enjoyable, safe and profitable harvest.
We are planning and hoping to go ahead with an in-person Manitoba Potato Production Days (MPPD) event at the end of January as provincial COVID-19 regulations allow. We all agree that the in-person networking and social aspect to MPPD is one of the best aspects of the show.
By: Matt Hemphill, executive director for Potatoes New Brunswick
2021 has proven to be a much better year for the potato industry in New Brunswick. COVID-19 continues to affect our industry with the uncertainty of food service restaurants, are they opened or closed? But we remain optimistic quick service restaurants and retail will continue to fill that gap.
New Brunswick growers planted more contracted processing acres this spring and about the same acreage for seed and table.
The planting season was ideal, and optimism is high for a good harvest season. With the early varieties just starting to come out of the ground as of Sept. 2, we are experiencing slightly higher yields and great quality. The same can be said for all three sectors, table, seed and processing.
Let’s hope mother nature continues to cooperate and we can get these potatoes in storage ASAP!
By: Kevin Brubacher, general manager of the Ontario Potato Board
The growing season in Ontario has been exceptional throughout the province. Some areas some areas were hit by extreme weather events which caused isolated damage to crops, but they have recovered nicely. In general, crop conditions and yields are excellent and will surely be above average.
At the time of writing this in early September, harvest of the 2021 early Ontario potato crop is well underway. Due to the high yields in the early crop, harvest will be drawn out longer than usual. Fresh potatoes hit the market in large volumes mid-July but movement has been slower than usual. Pricing has been strong and stable. Quality has been excellent and yields above average. Harvest of early process potatoes began in early August with excellent quality and yields.
In the next week or two, harvest of the storage crop will be in full swing for both fresh and process potatoes. Early indications are that yields, and quality are exceptional.
The annual general meeting of the Ontario Potato Board is scheduled to take place Dec. 1, 2021. We are hopeful to hold an in person meeting but will monitor the COVID-19 situation and make a decision closer to the date. Please direct any questions regarding the annual general meeting to the board office at [email protected] or (519)-846-5553.
Prince Edward Island
By: Wayne Townshend, board chair of the Prince Edward Island Potato Board
After a nearly ideal growing season growers are approaching harvest with tempered optimism, as many say, “the crop is not yet in the bin.” Field days held in early September show the potential for much improved yields from those in 2020 that were negatively impacted by drought conditions.
Island growers have been pleased to see an expansion of the weather station network in Prince Edward Island this season. The University of P.E.I. Climate Research Lab and School of Climate Change and Adaptation installed 38 new climate stations across the province in the summer of 2021. According to Don Jardine from the UPEI Climate Lab, the data from these new stations can be combined with data from several other stations including those established previously by the UPEI Climate Research Lab, the Mi’kmaq Confederacy of P.E.I., P.E.I. Emergency Measures Organization, CoCoRaHS volunteer observer network, and private climate station owners, for a total of 98 stations in total. The potato growers in P.E.I. are hopeful this expansion of the weather network will not only increase the historical data but will contribute to improving the local weather forecasting that is so important for planning agricultural operations.
Early harvest has begun in P.E.I. Things seemed to get going a little earlier in 2021 and volumes to Canadian and United States markets are up slightly from the same time in 2020. Processing plants transitioned to new crop local potatoes in mid-September.
As of Sept. 8, 2021, 83 per cent of Island residents 12 and over are fully vaccinated and 92 per cent have received at least one dose of the vaccine. Public Health recommendations to prevent the spread of COVID-19 will continue to be practiced on farms during the 2021 harvest season.
By: Sarah-Maude Larose-Lavallée, project officer for Les Producteurs de pommes de terre du Québec
The 2021 Quebec harvest of storage potatoes started mid-September. Early harvest has been underway for some time now; yields on the early crop are above average with good quality.
Though we do have some concern on the Russets due to the heat and drought we experienced this summer, we expect a good crop, but a smaller size profile. The weather improvements in the past weeks might help to regain size for the later varieties in some regions. There is still some time before the crop is in storage, and it can go either way.
Both the processing and chip crop have started to be dug. Our chip varieties appear to have slightly higher than normal gravities.
Overall, approximatively 1,000 acres more were planted. Good demand in the fresh sector resulted in a five per cent acreage increase, mostly on the yellows and long whites. Recently, demand has been positively influenced with return to school schedules and cooler temperatures.
As growers start another harvest season, we’re planning our annual potato conference and banquet to return in-person in November, wishing everyone good conditions to finish the growing season with.