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[deck]While total storage holdings are up, fresh pricing hasn’t changed much from the same period a year ago.[/deck]

MARCH FIGURES for storage holdings from the United Potato Growers of Canada show an increase of just over four million hundredweight of potatoes from the same period in 2015, mostly due to a rise in processing stock.

“For processing, we’re above [the 2015 storage numbers] but that’s also a given since there was an increased contract volume awarded last year, so that’s fine,” says Kevin MacIsaac, general manager of UPGC, adding there’s only slightly more processing holdings than what’s actually been contracted currently.

Fresh supply in storage is down 600,000 hundredweight from a year ago, while seed holdings are up slightly, he says.

MacIsaac notes the March figures show a disparity in storage holdings between the two sides of the country, similar to the situation a year ago when movement was greater in Western Canada than it was in Eastern Canada.

“I would say the West has shipped harder in the last couple of months,” he says. “Manitoba is particular has shipped pretty hard. By comparison, the East is finding it quite slow so far this year for some reason.” MacIsaac adds that Quebec has had very good disappearance.

THE PRICING picture for potatoes is about where it was a year ago at this time, MacIsaac says.

“Pricing is very, very similar to last year, so that’s pretty interesting,” he says. MacIsaac adds that in some areas like Ontario, there are fewer potatoes in storage due to reduced production last year, but that hasn’t lead to an increase in fresh price that you might expect.

“There’s been a fair bit of potato promotion by some grocery store chains. They want product to move and it’s been their request for offerings on feature. If you want to do business with them, they expect you to provide the product. I think that’s part of the pricing issue today,” he says.

THE QUALITY of the 2016-16 crop continues to hold up well in storage, according to MacIsaac.

“There have been a few isolated issues in a few provinces but overall quality is very, very good,” he says.

“Sometimes when you have good quality, in a way it can increase your marketable holdings because you have less cullage and more product that would pack out for you. We’re also seeing that some of the processing plants,” MacIsaac says.

“They’re putting some good material through and recovery is higher for the processors, so that ends up getting you a few more potatoes that you have to market.”

THINGS SEEM to be shaping up for a good start to the 2016 planting season, thanks to Mother Nature.

“It looks like a different planting season today, I would say, than a year ago. Then, we were looking at a very late season in terms of the amount of snow in a lot of areas. This year, that’s not the case,” MacIsaac says.

Because of warmer winter temperatures, snowmelt is already well underway in many parts of the country, he says, and generally less snow fell across Canada. “That’s consistent, it seems to be, in all areas. Overall, we’ve had less winter than we had the previous year.”

B.C., for example, was able to start planting potatoes earlier than normal on Feb. 25, MacIsaac notes.

“That will perhaps put a little pressure on shipments that will need to ramp up a little bit as guys get ready to go into a planting season that’s earlier than the previous year,” he says. “Whereas last year, they had a good long shipping season overall because the season for putting the new crop in was that much later.”

MacIsaac says warmer weather towards the end of winter is “always a challenge with storages to get enough fresh and enough cool air to keep the crop the way you need to.”

On the positive side, he adds, continued good weather should help facilitate seed movement. “That’s always good to get those holdings starting on the way down.”

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