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[deck]Thanks to a good harvest season, 2016 turned out to be a third-straight record year for potato yields in Canada.[/deck]

AFTER TWO years of record-breaking yields for potato production in Canada, 2016 saw another bumper crop. While production was down substantially in Central Canada, other parts of the country produced an excellent crop, resulting in an estimated national yield of 307.2 hundredweight of potatoes per acre. That’s up 0.7 per cent from 2015’s yield of 305.1 hundredweight.

While it’s been a third straight record-setting year for potato yields in Canada, it certainly wasn’t shaping up that way earlier in the season.

Kevin MacIsaac

“I think all throughout the summer we were expecting our crop to be down substantially compared to last year,” said Kevin MacIsaac when Spud Smart caught up with the United Potato Growers of Canada general manager a few weeks after the end of harvest.

“There was just better weather at the end of the growing season,” he added. “The crop did size up at the end better than we expected. And there was a good harvest season for the most part and very few unharvested acres that were not picked up. It turned out very good in terms of production.”

Indeed, there were record yields in Manitoba, where production is up 3.6 per cent in 2016 from 2015; Alberta saw a 3.9 per cent increase in production this year; and production rose almost as much in P.E.I. (up 3.5 per cent).

Over on the West Coast, production is up dramatically from 2015, climbing almost 42 per cent this year. “B.C.’s yields were absolutely fantastic,” MacIsaac said.

New Brunswick had a good growing season, he added, but production is down (a little more than five per cent from a year ago) largely due to a reduction in planted acres.

The major exception to the good yield numbers is Ontario, where 2016 potato production is down more than 17 per cent from 2015.

“There is certainly a major reduction in yield in potatoes coming out of Ontario,” said MacIsaac, adding the drop was due to a difficult growing season caused by near-drought conditions.

“Yields on the irrigated crops were 20 per cent less than last year, and on dryland crops they were 50 per cent less that last year,” he noted.

Next door in Quebec growing conditions were better, but there is still a 3.6 per cent drop in production figures from 2015 to 2016. “Last year was record breaking for them; this year it’s not. It’s still a good crop but just not quite as much,” said MacIsaac.

Last year (2016) was an exceptional year as well with respect to crop quality.

“The quality of the crop in virtually every area is excellent this year. It’s really nice for processing, good gravities, good colour, and on the table side, there’s good quality [and] not many defects. On the seed side, it’s very nice as well with a nice size profile,” MacIsaac said. “Overall it’s really nice quality.”

A MONTH or so after harvest, potatoes were moving from storages into the marketplace at a good pace, MacIsaac noted.

“It’s been brisk, and that’s a change from a year ago. We tend to have a bit of drag in the system right about this time, but we don’t have that this year,” he said.

“As a result, we’re shipping ahead of schedule in most provinces. Most provinces are a little bit ahead of where they were one year ago.”

The amount of potatoes in storage reflects this movement. December numbers for Canadian potato storage holdings showed a 9.1 decrease from the same period in 2015, which is good news for pricing.

“In my five years of looking at these numbers, this is certainly one of the most positive,” says MacIsaac. “This looks like a very promising year to return some profitability into the yards of Canadian potato growers.”

According to MacIsaac, potato prices as of early December were showing substantial improvement. “On a 10-pounder, we’re probably on 50 cents to a dollar higher than where we were a year ago in most areas,” he noted.

“I think we haven’t seen that initial drop in the price that we’d be seeing right about now, so I think we should be able to hold price and furthermore move it up a little bit as we move through our stocks.”

TOTAL POTATO production in the United States was almost 439.6 million hundredweight this year, according to November estimates released by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). This is down slightly from the 2015 crop, which totalled just over 441.2 million hundredweight.

The national potato yield in the U.S. is actually up, however, due to fewer planted and harvested acres. The USDA pegs the 2016 national yield at 436 potatoes per acre, up from 418 hundredweight per acre in 2015.

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