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Despite the fact that significantly fewer acres were planted in Canada last spring due to poor weather and reductions in processor contracts, yields for last year’s potato crop were actually up from 2013.

“We planted [fewer] 7,000 acres, but we had very, very good yields. The yields are the highest on record in Canada,” says Kevin MacIsaac, general manager of the United Potato Growers of Canada.

According to figures released by Statistics Canada, the national yield per acre for the 2014 crop was almost 297 hundredweight of potatoes. Alberta led the way with a yield of just over 360 hundredweight per acre, followed by Manitoba with a yield of more than 304 hundredweight per acre.

MacIsaac says the good production figures were threatened by some weather concerns heading into harvest that had producers in some areas worried about getting their crops in on time.

“The initial harvest conditions in areas like Manitoba, Alberta and Ontario were not good. It was pretty hard going, and it was expected at that time that some acres of potatoes would be not harvested and left out in the fields. But at the very end of it, the weather came around and guys were able to go back out and get the crop in,” he says.

According to MacIsaac, only 1.7 per cent of the total potato crop wasn’t reaped. “There were very few potatoes in Canada that were not harvested,” he says. “When you add all that volume in, that helped bring the yield up.”

MacIsaac says rising yields in Canada are following a similar pattern as to what’s happening in the United States. “Our yields have generally improved every year but not as significantly as [in] the U.S., mostly because more of their crop is irrigated than ours,” he says. “If you look at our increase this year, that’s the kind of trend line that you would expect to see on the U.S. side.”

In addition to good growing conditions in much of the country this year, a number of other factors contributed to 2014’s record potato yield, says MacIsaac.

“Part of that is some growers have exited the industry, so it’s more concentrated. Some of the [poorer] land has been taken out of production, the ends of the pivots and marginal potato growing areas, that kind of thing. So a lot of the spuds that are being grown now are on pretty good production land, so that’s always easier to obtain yield as well,” he says.

“Finally, to take nothing away from growers, producers are becoming more and more competent all the time in terms of their management ability and their access to technology.”

January numbers for Canada’s storage holdings for the 2014 crop are also up from a year ago. UPGC figures list the amount of potatoes in storage on Jan. 1, 2015 at just under 70,000,000 hundredweight, a three per cent increase from the amount of potatoes in storage on Jan. 1, 2014.

“Compared to a year ago, we have some extra holdings,” says MacIsaac, citing the record yields for the 2014 crop as one reason why. He says a number of areas also had contract increases and therefore required more stock to supply processors.

MacIsaac says that as of mid-January, the potato market was slower in Eastern Canada compared to the West, where shipments were ahead of schedule in some areas and pricing was also a little better.

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Good growing conditions in 2014 also contributed an outstanding crop in terms of quality.

“The crop is storing very well,” says MacIsaac. “There are hardly any areas that would say we have storage issues. Most areas report some of the best quality that they’ve ever had in terms of storability.”

MacIsaac says that means more product will like end up in the No. 1 category rather than being graded out as cullage, which is great news for producers.

Market information courtesy of UPGC, UPGA and industry partners.