Canada’s potato storage holdings as of June 1 were up almost eight per cent — or slightly more than 1.3 million hundredweight — from the year before, according to figures from the United Potato Growers of Canada. In Eastern Canada, the year-to-year increase was almost 22 per cent, mainly due to substantial increases in storage holdings in Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick. Western Canada actually saw a decline in year–to-year storage holdings of just over 10 per cent.
Kevin MacIsaac, UPGC general manager, says the big issue lies in the number of fresh potatoes in storage. “The fresh side is way up,” he says. “It’s up 70 per cent compared to a year ago. So that’s about another million and a quarter hundredweight that has to go through the fresh channels before the crop finishes.”
According to MacIsaac, the biggest table stock surpluses are in P.E.I. and New Brunswick. “Provinces in the West are actually running out,” he says, “and Ontario and Quebec are about where they should be. So those extra fresh potatoes are on the East Coast.
“What it means is that some of those potatoes aren’t going to get packed,” MacIsaac adds, indicating that much of this unpacked stock could end up as cattle feed.
“One positive thing is that the planting season is quite late in the East,” he says, which will give growers more time to clean up as much of the old crop as they can before the new crop comes in. “Certainly, last year was a season when the packers would have liked to pack a little longer because they ran out early. This year is just the opposite; they’re going to have to run quite late in order to try to get them all through.”
It’s a different picture when it comes to seed potatoes in storage, according to MacIsaac. In 2014, there was excess seed available and some of that eventually had to be moved into other channels. “This year, it’s quite the opposite,” he says, with the result that supply has matched up nicely with demand. “We have 63 per cent less seed than we had a year ago, so that’s good.”
On the processing side, storage holdings were pretty much on pace with the previous year, with just a five per cent increase from June 1, 2014 to June 1, 2015, MacIsaac says. Most of those excess processing potatoes are again in the East,” he adds. “They’re not all contracted, so I don’t know where some of those opens will end up going.”
South of the border, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that the 13 states that report potato stocks had 56.5 million hundredweight of potatoes in storage on June 1. That exceeded year-earlier holdings by 9.6 million hundredweight, a 20.5 per cent increase.
The June 1 potato stocks were at their highest level since 2001. Stocks increases were widespread, though 75 per cent of the extra potatoes were located in Idaho and Wisconsin. Bruce Huffaker of the North American Potato Market News says while this suggests that the industry is sitting on a massive surplus, much of this year’s increase may reflect undercounting in past years, rather than a large overhang on the current market.
The NAPMN reported that most 2015 fry potato contracts had been settled by early May, with U.S. prices mostly unchanged to down 1.5 per cent. Indications were that contract volumes were down somewhat in Idaho and Wisconsin from 2014, while Columbia Basin volume was up slightly up from last year. The NAPMN reported that other U.S. growing areas were expecting volumes to be similar to 2014.
The USDA reports that growers planted 955,300 acres to fall potatoes in 2015. That exceeds the 2014 planted area by 18,400 acres, a two per cent increase. The USDA is also reporting that U.S. growers planted fewer summer potatoes this year than last. A total of 49,300 acres have been planted to summer potatoes, which is 1,100 fewer acres or a 2.2 per cent reduction from 2014.