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March figures for potato storage holdings from the United Potato Growers of Canada paint a different picture for each side of the country.

“Right now … they’re down in the West, and up in the East,” says Kevin MacIsaac, general manager of the UPGC. “It’s two totally different scenarios, based on where you are in the country.

“Some of it is related to the fact that western growers planted less. I mean they had a pretty good yield, but they actually planted [fewer acres] due to contract cutbacks,” MacIsaac explains.

“The other side of it is that in the West, movement has been pretty good,” he says, adding that growers in the western provinces have been generally pleased with the level of shipments into the marketplace. “They may actually run out a little earlier than we anticipated.”

MacIsaac notes it’s the opposite situation in the East. “They would report movement is slow, and they probably will be a little long on the crop.” The result, he says, is that the season will likely be extended for potato shippers in the eastern provinces.

One of the more positive takeaways from the storage figures lies with the seed potato holdings, according to MacIsaac. He says the supply of seed appears to be matching up nicely with what will likely be required for planting this season.

“There’s enough seed, but not too much,” MacIsaac says. “A year ago we seemed to be carrying an additional seed volume, probably about a million hundredweight extra. That’s not there this year,” he says, adding that almost all areas are reporting a decrease in their seed holdings from a year ago.

“That’s good, because it really matches up the seed category with what’s actually needed to plant the crop,” he says. “And on the other side of the coin, it won’t be a drag on our market volume.”

The excellent quality of this year’s storage holdings is similarly encouraging.

“Some years at this time, this is when you see a change in your storages,” he says. “You’ve gone through a period of cold weather when storages aren’t able to get fresh air in …  and you see a change in the pile. This year, you don’t see that,” he says. “Almost all areas of the country would report excellent quality for this time of year.”

According to MacIsaac, the state of the storage holdings is reflection of the quality of the product going in. He adds it could result in more potatoes from last year’s crop going to market because more product will likely make No. 1 grade, resulting in a higher pack-out.

“In the U.S., there are a couple of areas that are having some quality issues … and that will give them a lower pack-out, so we’re quite fortunate in terms of what we’re delivering to both fresh and processing plants,” MacIsaac says.

The European Union is now the largest player in the global french fry market, with its external shipments surpassing those from North American exporters for the first time ever in 2014, according to Bruce Huffaker of North American Potato Market News.

Huffaker says that since 2002, EU external exports have been growing at a 14.9 per cent annual rate, compared to a 5.6 per cent rate for North American exporters during the same period.

On the opposite side of the global french fry picture, Brazil could be poised to overtake Japan as the world’s largest french fry importer as soon as this year.

According to Huffaker, Brazil’s imports have grown an average of 10.7 per cent a year since 2002, although they did level out in 2014 when there was a three per cent increase.

“Nevertheless, with the Japanese market only expanding at a 1.6 per cent annual rate during that time period (and declining 1.4 per cent during 2014), it is only a matter of time before Brazil’s imports top Japan’s,” Huffaker says. “If 2015 growth matches the long-term growth rates in both countries, that will occur this year.”

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