February figures show potato storage holdings in Canada are down significantly from the same time a year ago.
Potato storage holdings in Canada totaled 56.9 million hundredweight on Feb. 1, a 9.2 per cent decline from the same time in 2018, according to the United Potato Growers of Canada.
Storage holdings were down in every potato-producing province except for British Columbia, where holdings were up substantially at 36 per cent. According to UPGC General Manager, Kevin MacIsaac, British Columbia’s crop was below average last year so the increase returned that province to normal stocks.
MacIsaac said in mid-February the reduced numbers across most of the country were a direct result of last year’s cold, wet harvest season in many parts of Canada that limited the amount of potatoes going into storage.
MacIsaac said both British Columbia and Alberta reported increases in fresh holdings on Feb. 1 from a year previously, but he noted the two provinces were smaller players in Canada’s fresh potato sector.
All of the other provinces reported reductions in fresh holdings, with New Brunswick leading the way with a 36.6 per cent decline from the same time a year ago. The result, according to MacIsaac, was fresh packing sheds would not be able to run as long as they’d like to.
On the processing side, every potato-producing province reported fewer holdings on Feb. 1 than the same time in 2018. MacIsaac says that has meant processing plants have had to ship potatoes in from outside the country.
“Since late fall, we have potatoes moving into Canada from Idaho to accommodate this need for processing potatoes,” he says, “and the number there is pretty significant — 4.4 million hundredweight.”
MacIsaac said the storage situation for fresh and processing potatoes has produced good prices as a result of strong demand. He added that higher prices haven’t necessarily meant higher profits for many potato growers, who as a result of 2018’s difficult harvest ended up with less crop than they hoped for.
“Unfortunately, the growers this year don’t have the volume of potatoes that they need to meet this demand, so they’re really not going to be able to capitalize on some of the extra dollars that would be in the price this year just because they don’t have enough product,” MacIsaac said.
According to MacIsaac, the storability of the 2018 potato crop has been a concern throughout the current storage season.
“In every area this year, there are issues with storability. Potatoes are having to be moved out sooner than they normally would be, just because of some storage issues all related to a wet, cold harvest,” MacIsaac said.
“There’s an old saying that ‘you can’t make a potato any better than what you put into storage, no matter how high the quality of storage you have.’ So that’s the issue, and it’s ongoing.”
Storage holdings for seed potatoes were down 242,000 hundredweight or 2.7 per cent on Feb. 1 from the same time in 2018. MacIsaac said seed potato holdings were up in Alberta, Canada’s largest producer, as well as in Quebec from a year ago, which helped mitigate declines in other provinces.
MacIsaac maintained the seed holdings were more or less in line with what will be required for planting this spring.
“There may be some varieties that growers may not be able to find, but overall I think we’re going to come in pretty close to what’s needed,” he said.
According to MacIsaac, some varieties of red and European yellow potatoes might be in short supply in 2019, but that won’t be the case with the most popular spud in Canada. “There will be lots of Russet Burbank seed available,” he said.
South of the border, figures released by the United States Department of Agriculture in February showed storage holdings were up three per cent from the same time the previous year.
The 13 major potato states held 213.9 million hundredweight of potatoes in storage on Feb. 1, 2019, according to the USDA figures. Potato storage holdings on Feb. 1 in 2018 totalled 208.6 million hundredweight.