Following a disappointing year in 2018, total potato production in Canada is expected to be up in 2019.
Many potato growers across the country had to deal with some serious weather challenges in 2019. In August, severe hailstorms caused widespread crop damage in southern Alberta, while in September, Hurricane Dorian delivered torrential rain and gale-force winds to Prince Edward Island.
Those areas — as well as most of the other potato-producing regions in Canada — experienced a cool, wet spring, which delayed planting by up to two weeks. This was followed by a very hot, dry summer that generally put a damper on crop expectations for this year.
Kevin MacIsaac, general manager of the United Potato Growers of Canada, told Spud Smart the outlook had improved by mid-September, thanks largely to some end-of-season rains. As a result, he said, the national yield for the 2019 potato crop was expected to be above average, barring any major harvest issues.
According to MacIsaac, total potato production in Canada is expected to be up this year from last, for a number of reasons. For one, production dipped substantially in 2018 after a string of record-breaking yields due to the poor end to the season, which left thousands of potato acres unharvested.
Another reason is the continuing climb in Canada’s potato acres.
“Production will be up based on our acreage increase this year. We need to have more acres for the expansions that are going on, particularly in the processing sector, but also in some other areas,” said MacIsaac.
“We’re seeing a little bit of a shift, I think, into the table market. Some producers are growing fresh who have not really done any of that for a while.”
MacIsaac said it’s likely the prices being fetched by table potatoes these days has had something to do with that.
“Prices have been good in recent years, and growers may be thinking that this could be more profitable than some of the processing contracts they’ve had in the past,” he said.
It’s a different picture for seed potato production in Canada.
“The one category that’s probably declining in most areas, with the exception of Alberta, would be the seed industry. There’s been a decline in seed production and a reduction in the number of seed growers. Many of them have moved to processing potatoes, and some this year have also moved to table potatoes,” he said.
MacIsaac attributed this to market consolidation as well as the trend toward larger farms.
“Some of the seed industry has become more vertically integrated, where you’ve had the company that’s actually using the product in charge of the seed supply as well.
“Probably the most common example is the chip sector, where a lot of the chip varieties are controlled internally by companies within the industry. There are fewer public varieties to supply this seed, and therefore fewer opportunities for growers to do that,” MacIsaac added.
“Secondly, I think a lot of the seed has been produced on smaller-sized farms over the years, and that’s certainly changed now where some of the smaller producers have left or been bought out by other larger producers. So we’re seeing an increase in farm size, and this is an industry that tended to be on a smaller level before.”
In terms of potato holdings, MacIsaac said the pipeline was basically emptied out in many areas by mid-July.
“This year, we definitely need production to be up because the pipeline is so empty. I mean, people were running new potatoes just to try to feed the market — demand was that high.”
MacIsaac said as of mid-September, the price outlook for the 2019 crop was encouraging.
“We have prices in almost all areas that are very similar to last year, which was a good price. So I think we’re well poised for a decent year.”